105. Hacker, noun. A term believed to have arisen at MIT in the 1960s as a mark of honor among computer programmers; in its original sense, a hacker is a curious, tinkering person who seeks out a deep understanding of how a system like a computer network or a computer truly works, and is constantly trying to improve it. He or she is creative, thoughtful, and playful—a problem-solver and a maker above all. From Dutch hakken, German hacken, “to cut into pieces.”
The word has since been corrupted in popular culture to mean someone who maliciously breaks past computer security systems in order to steal private information. However, its positive denotation has also spread beyond the world of computing; today, anyone who stretches the limits of a system in a clever, mischievous way can be considered a hacker. Technically perhaps not a true “science” word, as hackers are not usually thought of as researchers; however, the act of hacking in its original sense plays an important role in refining the performance of any algorithmic process. Also see this short treatise on the hacker as disciplined computer scientist.
Slicing vegetables for dinner the other day, you smiled and I asked why. “I just thought of a way to make something run twice as fast,” you said. “I love it when that happens.”