The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hack the Word “Hack” From Your Vocabulary

Erudite People Of The World, Unite!

I need to rant, okay? Just a little. Here goes.

When used properly, “hack” is a solid, substantial word. It's a strong word that traces its origins back to the thirteenth-century Middle English word hakken. When used as a transitive verb, it means “to cut or sever with repeated irregular or unskillful blows.” As an intransitive verb, it means “to make chopping strokes or blows.”

Now, the word “hack” is nothing if not versatile. If one is annoyed or aggravated, one is said to be “hacked” or “hacked off.” If you can't cope or achieve in a particular situation, it is said you can't “hack it.” Maybe you have a “hacking” cough. You can be a “hack” or a “hacker” at golf. One of London's Hackney carriages can be called a “hack,” which is also what you call a motorcycle with a sidecar attached. In the masonry trade, “hack” refers to a row of stacked unfired bricks, while in the sports world a “hack” can be a horse, a training method for falcons, or a piece of equipment used in curling. There are, of course, political “hacks.” And you may come across the occasional “hack” writer, derived from the word "hackneyed," meaning "commonplace, trite, stale, or banal." There was even a TV show called “Hack.”

But the word got a big boost when it gained popularity in the cyber-geek world, where “hack” means to break into a computer. Suddenly, “hacker” and “hack into” became everyday expressions, and that's okay. But, unfortunately, the emergence of this iteration of “hack” also led the word to become an annoying, idiotic, and absolutely execrable buzzword.

Back around 2004, some hipster journalist covering a tech conference in California used the term “life hack” to describe certain shortcuts employed by IT professionals. How and why he came up with that expression I have no earthly idea. But he did and somebody liked it.

Now, that probably wouldn't have been so bad if it had remained confined to computer geekdom. But it didn't. Some nameless clown somewhere decided to shorten “life hack” or “lifehack” to just “hack” and utilize it in place of much better words. Bloggers especially became fond of the word and in the blink of an electronic eye, “hacks” were everywhere. And then the mainstream entertainment media took up the word and the race was truly on. Cooking “hacks,” cleaning “hacks,” study “hacks,” workout “hacks,” organizing “hacks,” etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum. All of a sudden, every piece of useful information was a “hack.” Descriptors like “tip”, “trick,” “hint,” “skill,” “idea,” or “shortcut” virtually disappeared in favor of the shiny new word of the day.

Well, I'm here to tell you I can't hack the trend anymore. I am supremely hacked off about it and if I had my way, I'd hack into the lexicon of every hack who uses the word “hack” in that manner and hack it from existence. There's nothing whatsoever wrong with a cooking shortcut, a study hint, a cleaning tip, a workout trick, or an organizing idea. To a normal person of average intelligence, these are perfectly clear and understandable terms that do not need to be replaced by cutesy-tootsey mediaspeak, slang, and jargon. You got me, hipster and millennial hack writers? You hear me, vapid and vacuous morning news show hosts? I want a “tip” or a “trick,” not something that sounds like what my cat does with a hairball. Go buy a damn thesaurus and stop using “hack” to describe anything useful and informative. It's annoying as all billy-hell to those of us who possess vocabularies of words made up of more than one syllable, and, far from making you sound hip, trendy, and cool, it bespeaks an air of stupidity and sophomoric solecism.

Erudite people of the world, unite! Join with me and together we'll hack away at this aberrant usage of a perfectly good and serviceable word.  

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