I’m sure I’m not the only person to have voiced this plea, but let me add another vote to end the lazy use of the word “hack”.
Please, stop using the word “hack” as clickbait for your list of 10 cheap substitutes for real tools that you can’t afford to buy. Don’t use the word “hack” when you’re just writing a list of tips most broke dorm students figured out in their freshman year. “Use dental floss to cut soft foods” is not a hack. “Use a colander” to roast red peppers is not a hack. People do these all the time. Don’t have a cake pan to bake a cake? Use a muffin pan. This is not a hack. Don’t have a noodle juicing machine? Press the dough out of a colander or a potato ricer instead. This is not a hack. This is just using things that are similar in structure to the actual tool that already exist for this type of action.
While it may be creative, it is not a hack.
Worse than using the word hack to describe budget-friendly substitutes is using the word hack to describe normal, daily human activity. “Staying hydrated” is not a hack for your body in the winter (via Real Simple), it is part of living. “Rereading text when you don’t understand a passage in a book” is not a hack for better reading (via Huffington Post), it is part of the process of reading. “Shaving with the grain of your beard” is not a life hack for men (via Business Insider), you are just describing how to shave.
I have a sensitivity to this word because hacking usually describes a quick, inefficient way to code because of lack of knowledge of the program. It is commendable when you are able to hack into a server because the lack of knowledge there is understandable. You are trying to get into a system that does not want you there. Of course you would have to find another way around it.
On the other hand, in college and in my professional life, I sometime encounter ill-equipped developers who hack their way through their job. One colleague built a very expensive website for a hunting group using hundreds of “& n b s p ;” and hard-coded every div. She said it was a faster hack since she was working with a theme that she didn’t know her way around. When she asked me to take over the website for her and told me it was very easy because I just had to copy the hard-coded div to every update, I immediately backed out knowing if I wanted to work on that site with a good conscience, I would have to refactor everything.
Another classmate when taking over a new job didn’t know how to work with the existing stylesheets and would create new classes and add “!important” after every line. He described it proudly as a hack he had found online.
I’m very wary when someone describes themselves as a hacker. There is always that pause as I wonder if this person is a genius and can pick up everything easily or is this person too lazy to learn how to code properly and would rather take shortcuts found on stackoverflow?
So let’s lessen our use of the word “hack” unless the situation warrants it. Let’s try to elevate the word hack so that it only describes brilliant shortcuts instead of lazy workarounds. Hacking into someone’s Facebook by finding a way to access the Facebook server? That’s a hack. Picking up someone’s phone and writing on their Facebook wall? That’s not.