The Jargon File Version 4.4.6
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The Jargon File maintained by Eric S. Raymond. Tag: Neology
1975 to 1983
The Jargon File (hereafter referred to as “jargon-1″ or “the File”) was begun by Raphael Finkel at Stanford in 1975. From this time until the plug was finally pulled on the SAIL computer in 1991, the File was named AIWORD.RF[UP,DOC] there. Some terms in it date back considerably earlier (frob and some senses of moby, for instance), go back to the Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT and are believed to date at least back to the early 1960s. The revisions of “jargon-1″ were all unnumbered and may be collectively considered “Version 1″. In 1976, Mark Crispin, having seen an announcement about the File on the SAIL computer, ftp’ed a copy of the File to MIT. He noticed that it was hardly restricted to “AI words” and so stored the file on his directory as AI:MRC;SAIL JARGON. However, jargon is a misnomer as the editors of the file have always tried to avoid the inclusion of strict computer jargon (technical terms) as opposed to slang used by hackers. The file was quickly renamed JARGON. The enhancements were made by Mark Crispin and Guy Steele. Unfortunately, amidst all this activity, nobody thought of correcting the term “jargon” to “slang” until the compendium had already become widely known as the Jargon File. Perhaps the term “jargon” gave the compendium faux seriousness. Raphael Finkel dropped out of active participation shortly thereafter and Don Woods became the SAIL contact for the File (which was subsequently kept in duplicate at SAIL and MIT, with periodic resynchronizations). The File expanded by fits and starts until about 1983; Richard Stallman was prominent among the contributors, adding many MIT and ITS-related coinages. In Spring 1981, a hacker named Charles Spurgeon got a large chunk of the File published in Stewart Brand’s Co Evolution Quarterly (issue 29, pages 26–35) with illustrations by Phil Wadler and Guy Steele (including a couple of the Crunchly cartoons). This appears to have been the File’s first paper publication.
1983 to 1990
Shortly after the publication of Steele-1983, the File effectively stopped growing and changing. Originally, this was due to a desire to freeze the file temporarily to facilitate the production of Steele-1983, but external conditions caused the ‘temporary’ freeze to become permanent. The AI Lab culture had been hit hard in the late 1970s by funding cuts and the resulting administrative decision to use vendor-supported hardware and associated proprietary software instead of homebrew whenever possible. At MIT, most AI work had turned to dedicated LISP Machines. At the same time, the commercialization of AI technology lured some of the AI Lab’s best and brightest away to startups along the Route 128 strip in Massachusetts and out West in Silicon Valley. The startups built LISP machines for MIT; the central MIT AI computer became a TWENEX system rather than a host for the AI hackers’ beloved ITS. The Stanford AI Lab had effectively ceased to exist by 1980, although the SAIL computer continued as a Computer Science Department resource until 1991. Stanford became a major TWENEX site, at one point operating more than a dozen TOPS-20 systems; but by the mid-1980s most of the interesting software work was being done on the emerging BSD Unix standard. In May 1983, the PDP-10-centered cultures that had nourished the File were dealt a death-blow by the cancellation of the Jupiter project at DEC. The File’s compilers, already dispersed, moved on to other things. Steele-1983 was partly a monument to what its authors thought was a dying tradition; no one involved realized at the time just how wide its influence was to be. By the mid-1980s the File’s content was dated, but the legend that had grown up around it never quite died out. The book, and soft-copies obtained off the ARPANET, circulated even in cultures far removed from MIT and Stanford; the content exerted a strong and continuing influence on hacker language and humor. Even as the advent of the microcomputer and other trends fueled a tremendous expansion of hackerdom, the File (and related materials such as the Some AI Koans in Appendix A) came to be seen as a sort of sacred epic, a hacker-culture Matter of Britain chronicling the heroic exploits of the Knights of the Lab. The pace of change in hackerdom at large accelerated tremendously — but the Jargon File, having passed from living document to icon, remained essentially untouched for seven years.
1990 and beyond
A new revision was begun in 1990, which contained nearly the entire text of a late version of jargon-1 (a few obsolete PDP-10-related entries were dropped after consultation with the editors of Steele-1983). It merged in about 80% of the Steele-1983 text, omitting some framing material and a very few entries introduced in Steele-1983 that are now only of historical interest.
The new version cast a wider net than the old Jargon File; its aim was to cover not just AI or PDP-10 hacker culture but all the technical computing cultures wherein the true hacker-nature is manifested. More than half of the entries now derive from Usenet and represent jargon now current in the C and Unix communities, but special efforts have been made to collect jargon from other cultures including IBM PC programmers, Amiga fans, Mac enthusiasts, and even the IBM mainframe world.
Eric S. Raymond maintains the new File with assistance from Guy Steele, and is the credited editor of the print version, The New Hacker’s Dictionary. Critics lament that the new maintainer has added words of his own invention, developed the file counter to his own “open source” ideals, or that he has spoiled the Jargon File as a record of a single historically interesting culture and turned it into a generic collection of technical terms. Many hackers have become dissatisfied by his centralized control over submissions to the File, the allegedly questionable additions and edits he has made, and the removal of certain terms on the grounds of being dated (unusual in historical dictionary projects). He has also been criticised for using the Jargon File as a vehicle for promoting his own political and social opinions. Particular instances that attracted much attention were the addition of tendentious pro-Iraq War and pro-gun ownership entries. Raymond has replied to some of these concerns at the jargon.org web site.
Jargon File Wikipedia