Hack!

What does that mean?

On a dark and windy night, a lone figure, whose face we don’t see in the darkness, slips in through the back door of a house. A couple is sleeping upstairs in their bedroom.

Suddenly, the figure is at the couple’s bedside and a shiny knife appears. The camera cuts away to show the knife as it is wielded repeatedly, with blood spurting in the air. The couple has been hacked to death with the intruder’s knife.

…Now that’s a definition of “hacking” that I remember.

Another example of hacking is when the hacker electronically breaks into a national intelligence agency’s data files, thereby compromising national security.

Way back when, if you called someone a “hack” you were insulting his/her writing, insinuating that they were not very talented.

A hacking cough was an unpleasant situation when you couldn’t stop coughing.

All of the above examples, I think you’d agree, are negative contexts.

Now, suddenly, the word “hack” is everywhere with the opposite meaning.

For example:

5 amazing food hacks – ways to make food more easily.

1,000 life hacks – again to make life easier.

Bathroom hacks to make time in the bathroom more “tolerable.”

I admire the adaptability of the English language, but I find using the word “hack” with a positive context disconcerting.

(Reference my previous blog in which I nearly created an international incident by mistaking a word that meant “bad” and using it for a positive.)

Ambiguity creates problems. What are your thoughts on this?

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