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Feb 02

What the Hack?

I’m suddenly seeing the word hack word come up in popular usage. “Productivity hacks for writing.” “Healthy hacks for game day.” “Simple life hacks.”

I’m having a lot of trouble with this word. What does it mean? Okay, it’s being used as a noun. Reading from context, it seems to have about as much meaning as the word thing, as in, “Hey, pass me that thing.” As in, pretty much none. So I googled it (which, BTW, is a nice, clear slang term).

I couldn’t find the definition. About the closest usage seems to be, “a quick solution that solves a problem, but does not solve it particularly well, or in a particularly good way,” from the Online Slang Dictionary. But even this definition still doesn’t quite fit.

So here’s my theory: hack sounds cool, vaguely techie with a quick, sharp ring to it.

I’m a writer. I love words. Conventional words, slang words, old words people hardly use anymore, words that once meant one thing but now mean something else. The most fun thing about words is finding a word that’s exactly right for what I’m trying to convey. So this word hack really bugs me, because it conveys exactly nothing.

Hack for cough tells you exactly how that cough sounds and feels. Hack for cut expresses the violence of the motion. Hack for a computer break-in suggests its illicit nature. Hack for an untalented professional conveys the slap-dash nature of their work. But life hacks? What the hell is that?

One of two things will happen with the new usage of the word hack. It will either go the way of 23 skidoo and bitchin’ as its coolness fades, or it will settle down into an agreed-upon meaning. Either way, it can’t happen soon enough for me.

1 comment

  1. donbay2013

    Good examples of how a word changes through time…and merely empty words that will fade with time.

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