Overgeneralization

A very conspicuous feature of jargon is the frequency with which techspeak items such as names of program tools, command language primitives, and even assembler opcodes are applied to contexts outside of computing wherever hackers find amusing analogies to them. Thus (to cite one of the best-known examples) Unix hackers often grep for things rather than searching for them. Many of the lexicon entries are generalizations of exactly this kind.

Hackers enjoy overgeneralization on the grammatical level as well. Many hackers love to take various words and add the wrong endings to them to make nouns and verbs, often by extending a standard rule to nonuniform cases (or vice versa). For example, because porous porosity and generous generosity, hackers happily generalize:

  • mysterious mysteriosity

  • ferrous ferrosity

  • obvious obviosity

  • dubious dubiosity

Another class of common construction uses the suffix -itude to abstract a quality from just about any adjective or noun. This usage arises especially in cases where mainstream English would perform the same abstraction through -iness or -ingness . Thus:

  • win winnitude (a common exclamation)

  • loss lossitude

  • cruft cruftitude

  • lame lameitude

Some hackers cheerfully reverse this transformation; they argue, for example, that the horizontal degree lines on a globe ought to be called lats after all, they're measuring latitude!

Also, note that all nouns can be verbed. E.g.: All nouns can be verbed , I'll mouse it up , Hang on while I clipboard it over , I'm grepping the files . English as a whole is already heading in this direction (towards pure-positional grammar like Chinese); hackers are simply a bit ahead of the curve.

The suffix -full can also be applied in generalized and fanciful ways, as in As soon as you have more than one cachefull of data, the system starts thrashing, or As soon as I have more than one headfull of ideas, I start writing it all down. A common use is screenfull , meaning the amount of text that will fit on one screen, usually in text mode where you have no choice as to character size. Another common form is bufferfull .

However, hackers avoid the unimaginative verb-making techniques characteristic of marketroids, bean-counters, and the Pentagon; a hacker would never, for example, productize , prioritize , or securitize things. Hackers have a strong aversion to bureaucratic bafflegab and regard those who use it with contempt.

Similarly, all verbs can be nouned. This is only a slight overgeneralization in modern English; in hackish, however, it is good form to mark them in some standard nonstandard way. Thus:

  • win winnitude, winnage

  • disgust disgustitude

  • hack hackification

Further, note the prevalence of certain kinds of nonstandard plural forms. Some of these go back quite a ways; the TMRC Dictionary includes an entry which implies that the plural of mouse is meeces, and notes that the defined plural of caboose is cabeese . This latter has apparently been standard (or at least a standard joke) among railfans (railroad enthusiasts) for many years

On a similarly Anglo-Saxon note, almost anything ending in x may form plurals in -xen (see VAXen and boxen in the main text). Even words ending in phonetic /k/ alone are sometimes treated this way; e.g., soxen for a bunch of socks. Other funny plurals are the Hebrew-style frobbotzim for the plural of frobbozz (see frobnitz) and Unices and Twenices (rather than Unixes and Twenexes ; see Unix, TWENEX in main text). But note that Twenexen was never used, and Unixen was seldom sighted in the wild until the year 2000, thirty years after it might logically have come into use; it has been suggested that this is because -ix and -ex are Latin singular endings that attract a Latinate plural. Among Perl hackers it is reported that comma and semicolon pluralize as commata and semicola respectively. Finally, it has been suggested to general approval that the plural of mongoose ought to be polygoose .

The pattern here, as with other hackish grammatical quirks, is generalization of an inflectional rule that in English is either an import or a fossil (such as the Hebrew plural ending -im , or the Anglo-Saxon plural suffix -en ) to cases where it isn't normally considered to apply.

This is not poor grammar , as hackers are generally quite well aware of what they are doing when they distort the language. It is grammatical creativity, a form of playfulness. It is done not to impress but to amuse, and never at the expense of clarity.