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, FTPed 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.
The file was quickly renamed JARGON > (the `>' caused versioning under ITS) as a flurry of enhancements were made by Mark Crispin and Guy L. Steele Jr. 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.
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 "CoEvolution 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.
A late version of jargon-1, expanded with commentary for the mass market, was edited by Guy Steele into a book published in 1983 as "The Hacker's Dictionary" (Harper & Row CN 1082, ISBN 0-06-091082-8). The other jargon-1 editors (Raphael Finkel, Don Woods, and Mark Crispin) contributed to this revision, as did Richard M. Stallman and Geoff Goodfellow. This book (now out of print) is hereafter referred to as `Steele-1983' and those six as the Steele-1983 coauthors.
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 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 April 1983, the PDP-10-centered cultures that had nourished the File were dealt a death-blow by the cancellation of the Jupiter project at Digital Equipment Corporation. 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 softcopies 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 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.
This revision contains nearly the entire text of a late version of jargon-1 (a few obsolete PDP-10-related entries were dropped after careful consultation with the editors of Steele-1983). It merges in about 80% of the Steele-1983 text, omitting some framing material and a very few entries introduced in Steele-1983 that are now also obsolete.
This new version casts a wider net than the old Jargon File; its aim is 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 <email@example.com> maintains the new File with assistance from Guy L. Steele Jr. <firstname.lastname@example.org>; these are the persons primarily reflected in the File's editorial `we', though we take pleasure in acknowledging the special contribution of the other coauthors of Steele-1983. Please email all additions, corrections, and correspondence relating to the Jargon File to email@example.com.
(Warning: other email addresses appear in this file *but are not guaranteed to be correct* later than the revision date on the first line. *Don't* email us if an attempt to reach your idol bounces --- we have no magic way of checking addresses or looking up people.)
The 2.9.6 version became the main text of "The New Hacker's Dictionary", by Eric Raymond (ed.), MIT Press 1991, ISBN 0-262-68069-6.
The 3.0.0 version was published in September 1993 as the second edition of "The New Hacker's Dictionary", again from MIT Press (ISBN 0-262-18154-1).
If you want the book, you should be able to find it at any of the major bookstore chains. Failing that, you can order by mail from
The MIT Press 55 Hayward Street Cambridge, MA 02142or order by phone at (800)-356-0343 or (617)-625-8481.
The maintainers are committed to updating the on-line version of the Jargon File through and beyond paper publication, and will continue to make it available to archives and public-access sites as a trust of the hacker community.
Here is a chronology of the high points in the recent on-line revisions:
Version 2.1.1, Jun 12 1990: the Jargon File comes alive again after a seven-year hiatus. Reorganization and massive additions were by Eric S. Raymond, approved by Guy Steele. Many items of UNIX, C, USENET, and microcomputer-based jargon were added at that time.
Version 2.9.6, Aug 16 1991: corresponds to reproduction copy for book. This version had 18952 lines, 148629 words, 975551 characters, and 1702 entries.
Version 2.9.8, Jan 01 1992: first public release since the book, including over fifty new entries and numerous corrections/additions to old ones. Packaged with version 1.1 of vh(1) hypertext reader. This version had 19509 lines, 153108 words, 1006023 characters, and 1760 entries.
Version 2.9.9, Apr 01 1992: folded in XEROX PARC lexicon. This version had 20298 lines, 159651 words, 1048909 characters, and 1821 entries.
Version 2.9.10, Jul 01 1992: lots of new historical material. This version had 21349 lines, 168330 words, 1106991 characters, and 1891 entries.
Version 2.9.11, Jan 01 1993: lots of new historical material. This version had 21725 lines, 171169 words, 1125880 characters, and 1922 entries.
Version 2.9.12, May 10 1993: a few new entries & changes, marginal MUD/IRC slang and some borderline techspeak removed, all in preparation for 2nd Edition of TNHD. This version had 22238 lines, 175114 words, 1152467 characters, and 1946 entries.
Version 3.0.0, Jul 27 1993: manuscript freeze for 2nd edition of TNHD. This version had 22548 lines, 177520 words, 1169372 characters, and 1961 entries.
Version 3.1.0, Oct 15 1994: interim release to test WWW conversion. This version had 23197 lines, 181001 words, 1193818 characters, and 1990 entries.
Version 3.2.0, Mar 15 1995: Spring 1995 update. This version had 23822 lines, 185961 words, 1226358 characters, and 2031 entries.
Version 3.3.0, Jan 20 1996: Winter 1996 update. This version had 24055 lines, 187957 words, 1239604 characters, and 2045 entries.
Version 3.3.1, Jan 25 1996: Copy-corrected improvement on 3.3.0 shipped to MIT Press as a step towards TNHD III. This version had 24147 lines, 188728 words, 1244554 characters, and 2050 entries.
Version 3.3.2, Mar 20 1996: A number of new entries pursuant on 3.3.2. This version had 24442 lines, 190867 words, 1262468 characters, and 2061 entries.
Version 3.3.3, Mar 25 1996: Cleanup before TNHD III manuscript freeze. This version had 24584 lines, 191932 words, 1269996 characters, and 2064 entries.
Version 4.0.0, Jul 25 1996: The actual TNHD III version after copy-edit. This version had 24801 lines, 193697 words, 1281402 characters, and 2067 entries.
Version numbering: Version numbers should be read as major.minor.revision. Major version 1 is reserved for the `old' (ITS) Jargon File, jargon-1. Major version 2 encompasses revisions by ESR (Eric S. Raymond) with assistance from GLS (Guy L. Steele, Jr.) leading up to and including the second paper edition. From now on, major version number N.00 will probably correspond to the Nth paper edition. Usually later versions will either completely supersede or incorporate earlier versions, so there is generally no point in keeping old versions around.
Our thanks to the coauthors of Steele-1983 for oversight and assistance, and to the hundreds of Usenetters (too many to name here) who contributed entries and encouragement. More thanks go to several of the old-timers on the Usenet group alt.folklore.computers, who contributed much useful commentary and many corrections and valuable historical perspective: Joseph M. Newcomer <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Bernie Cosell <email@example.com>, Earl Boebert <boebert@SCTC.com>, and Joe Morris <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
We were fortunate enough to have the aid of some accomplished linguists. David Stampe <email@example.com> and Charles Hoequist <firstname.lastname@example.org> contributed valuable criticism; Joe Keane <email@example.com> helped us improve the pronunciation guides.
A few bits of this text quote previous works. We are indebted to Brian A. LaMacchia <firstname.lastname@example.org> for obtaining permission for us to use material from the "TMRC Dictionary"; also, Don Libes <email@example.com> contributed some appropriate material from his excellent book "Life With UNIX". We thank Per Lindberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>, author of the remarkable Swedish-language 'zine "Hackerbladet", for bringing "FOO!" comics to our attention and smuggling one of the IBM hacker underground's own baby jargon files out to us. Thanks also to Maarten Litmaath for generously allowing the inclusion of the ASCII pronunciation guide he formerly maintained. And our gratitude to Marc Weiser of XEROX PARC <Marc_Weiser.PARC@xerox.com> for securing us permission to quote from PARC's own jargon lexicon and shipping us a copy.
It is a particular pleasure to acknowledge the major contributions of Mark Brader <email@example.com> and Steve Summit <firstname.lastname@example.org> to the File and Dictionary; they have read and reread many drafts, checked facts, caught typos, submitted an amazing number of thoughtful comments, and done yeoman service in catching typos and minor usage bobbles. Their rare combination of enthusiasm, persistence, wide-ranging technical knowledge, and precisionism in matters of language has been of invaluable help. Indeed, the sustained volume and quality of Mr. Brader's input over several years and several different editions has only allowed him to escape co-editor credit by the slimmest of margins.
Finally, George V. Reilly <email@example.com> helped with TeX arcana and painstakingly proofread some 2.7 and 2.8 versions, and Eric Tiedemann <firstname.lastname@example.org> contributed sage advice throughout on rhetoric, amphigory, and philosophunculism.