A Bibliography Of The Word 'Hacker'

John David Pressman

Right now I’m writing a post on the etymology of the word ‘hacker’, and it’s taking a lot longer than I’d like it to. I think this information is important enough that I don’t want to wait to have something polished to put all of it out there, so here are the highlights of that post so far along with a collection of interesting resources I’ve found on the subject.

Research Questions

  1. How the word ‘hacker’ spread from MIT to other computer enthusiasts. The best lead I’ve found on this so far is that in 1971 the ARPANET got mailing lists. One of the earliest mailing lists was called “NETWORK-HACKERS”, which would be a good candidate for how the word spread (Hardy, 1996). Besides that I’ll probably try rereading Levy’s Hackers for clues. Maybe try to find an OCR’d scan of student publications in the years between 1963 and 1975. (Dates between second oldest print use of ‘hacker’ (Lichstein, 1963) and the creation of the jargon file respectively. (“Chris Dale”, n.d.))

  2. How the word started being used by phone phreaks in the 1980’s instead of the previously preferred term ‘computer freaking/phreaking’ which appears in the 1971 Esquire article. Reading Katie Hafner’s Cyberpunk I found out about one of the first phone phreaking boards, 8BBS (Hafner and Markoff, 1991). The 8BBS archives are online thanks to Jason Timmons, though they’re only available in a difficult to search PDF format. Reading through them two things become immediately apparent. The first is that phreaks were using the word ‘hacker’ prior to 1980, as there are posts to the bulletin board using it which are written in a tone implying the word is established among phreakers as something they can be called. The second is that they have access to the ARPANET, so if ARPANET spread the word ‘hacker’ around then that’s probably where phreaks got it from (Timmons, 2014).

  3. The origin of the terms black/white/gray hat hacker. So far I’ve traced the term ‘ethical hacking’ to a June 1995 Computer World interview with John Patrick of IBM (Anthes, 1995) and my earliest print reference to a “White Hat Hacker” is a 1997 New York Times article (Lohr, 1997). In the prologue to Cliff Stoll’s The Cuckoos Egg he mentions men in black hats as already knowing many of the vulnerabilities he discusses in the book (Stoll, 1989). This would be the earliest reference I have to the concept in 1989. I plan to setup a database from old usenet archives and search them for patterns matching “hat hacker” or even just posts with both “hat” and “hacker” in them.

  4. The commercialization of the term for things like Mark Zuckerburgs “Hacker Way” letter. This will probably be fairly easy since most of it happened post-Internet, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.


Anthes, G. (1995, Jun 19). Safety first. Computerworld, Vol. 29(25), 16. https://books.google.com/books?id=HUxnkgP1ErkC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage

“Chris Dale”. (n.d.). The jargon file: Community building (and dividing) over the internet. Retrieved from http://chrisdale.name/jargon/

Dennis, Jack B. (Jack Bonnell); O’Neill, Judy E.. (1989). Oral history interview with Jack Bonnell Dennis. Charles Babbage Institute. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://hdl.handle.net/11299/107244.

Hafner, K., & Markoff, J. (1991). Cyberpunk: Outlaws and hackers on the computer frontier. New York: Simon & Schuster

Hall, D. (2007). IBM 704: 1954. Retrieved from http://www.shorpy.com/node/953

Hardy, I. (1996). The evolution of ARPANET email. Retrieved from http://www.livinginternet.com/References/Ian%20Hardy%20Email%20Thesis.txt

Harvey, B. (1985). What is a hacker?. Retrieved from https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~bh/hacker.html

Hughes, T. (1983). Networks of power: electrification in western society, 1880-1930. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=g07Q9M4agp4C&pg=PA117#v=onepage&q&f=false

Johnson, J. (1989, Jan 8). Computer an ‘umbilical cord to his soul’ : ‘dark side’ hacker seen as ‘electronic terrorist’. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1989-01-08/news/mn-285_1_computer-hacker

Kidder, T. (1981). The soul of a new machine. Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company.

King, S. (1972). Computer networks: the heralds of resource sharing. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/ComputerNetworks_TheHeraldsOfResourceSharing

Levy, S. (1984). Hackers: heroes of the computer revolution (25th anniversary ed.). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Levy, S. (1984). Hackers: heroes of the computer revolution. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/729/pg729-images.html

Lichstein, H. (1963). Telephone hackers active. The Tech, Vol. 83(24), page 1. http://tech.mit.edu/V83/PDF/V83-N24.pdf

Lohr, S. (1997, Mar 17). Go ahead, be paranoid. hackers are out to get you. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/17/business/go-ahead-be-paranoid-hackers-are-out-to-get-you.html

Raymond, E. (n.d). In The jargon file. Retrieved from http://catb.org/jargon/html/H/hacker.html

Samson, P. (1959). In An abridged dictionary of the TMRC language. Retrieved from http://www.gricer.com/tmrc/dictionary1959.html

Stoll, C. (1989). The Cuckoos Egg. Retrieved from http://bayrampasamakina.com/tr/pdf_stoll_4_1.pdf

Timmons, J. (2014). 8BBS Archive P1V1. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/8BBSArchiveP1V1

Yagoda, B. (2014). A short history of “hack”. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/a-short-history-of-hack