Please Stop Calling Everything a "Hack"

We have a problem. Be you blogger, journalist, tech writer, or commenter (both racist and otherwise), it's time to stop with the gratuitous overuse of "hacking." Existence itself is not a hack.

It's one thing to use "hack" to refer to anything crafty or resourceful. Appropriate even. You broke into the NSA's database. You tweeted profane, homophobic slurs from Arby's Twitter account. You found 101 uses for toilet paper rolls that all start with the letter "B." Fine, you hacked it. You hacked the hell out of those toilet paper rolls. I can handle that.

Because whether it involved manipulating lines of code or cardboard, every one of those acts required some modicum of skill—resourcefulness, even. Deliberate thought and innovation joined forces to accomplish a common goal.

Of course, some will say that none of those acts are technically hacking. Because some people are pedants. The terms hack, hacker, and hacking come with a rich, storied history where the only commonality is true ingenuity. The variform hackers of the world might see one another as frauds, but at least according to the word's history, they're all equally valid.

Unfortunately, "hack" doesn't stop there. For every article detailing the use of paperclips in roadside lobotomies (see Amateur Lobotomy Hacks), there are five more that use hack to refer to doing absolutely anything at all. Wrapping your laptop cable around the charger is not a hack. That's called "using things in the way they were intended."

Interacting with other humans vocally isn't a depression hack. That's a conversation. You didn't hack your vacation by wandering onto a construction site. You didn't hack your coworker by sending him a file. And you didn't hack your banana by hanging it from a wall.

If only it ended there. Because yes, it's horrible, it's awful, it's lazy and glib, but at least those examples are somewhat within the realm of rational thinking. But now, hacking isn't just a thing we do. It's the mere state of existence itself. You're hacking the air as you read this—because you are breathing.

Going to the doctor? That's a DNA hack. Continuing to live? That's your environment "literally" (yes, literally) hacking your genes. Existing—as an animal? You, my beastly friend, just hacked climate change.

So yes, you are your own unique snowflake, and you can continue to use the word "hack" and its variants in all the absurd ways you'd like. (Apps hacking autism? Sure, why not). And yes, you can challenge us with the fact that language evolves! Stop being a linguistic luddite! But there's a difference between embracing change and being content with a lazy, cursory understanding of the English language.

The word may still have some meaning now, but it is deteriorating—fast. We are well on our way to a world where gravity itself is a hack, hacking your bones until it's time for an energy hack. Close your eyes and hack the light. Hack your dreams. Hack the future by hacking your very own tiny human. A baby that hacks your uterus and rehacks the food you've already mouth-hacked. A hack for baby is a hack for America.

Then finally, one day, we'll have hacked all we can hack here on Earth and it will be time for us to hack ourselves deep into the ground. The dirt and the worms will hack our bodily form as we hack our way into a human hack of a compost pile. And then—only then—will we hack no more.

So please, if you repaired a bike with a wrench, say so in words that actually mean that. If you made it one more day without dying—great, so did we. You didn't hack your bike, you didn't hack the world, you existed. And if that's not enough for you, we suggest you hack a thesaurus.