Okay, I’ve already misplaced the thread that brought this question to mind, but I’m curious about something. Computer enthusiasts, sometimes known as “hackers”, have made claims for quite some time now (probably most of us are familiar) that “hacker” properly refers to someone who is skilled with computers in the sense of writing programs and similar activities. “Cracker” is, in their opinion, the proper term for folks who try to compromise computer security for nefarious purposes.
Now, aside from the basic linguistic truth that words have meanings and it makes little sense to talk about what they “should” mean, is there some sort of historical basis for this? The word “hacker” with both of the above meanings (and, as depicted in popular culture, usually a hacker engages in both practices) has existed for quite a long time, while the word “cracker” is generally a mild pejorative to refer to white people. I’ve only heard it used in the computer exploit sense by computer geeks, and I never heard it until long after “hacker” was mainstream.
Is there any historical validity to the notion that these words at some point had the meanings that the geek community imputes to them? Because it appears to me to essentially be a computer geek PCism, some attempt to commandeer the language to push a certain viewpoint and to decide upon the “proper” terms to apply to any group of people. Am I right in this? Or is there some reason to believe that the word “cracker” has some sort of historical precedent for this use.