People who use the word “hacker” when they’re referring to computer criminals are not wrong. One can argue that they don’t know the whole story, or that they lack an appreciation for the “real” meaning of the word, but they aren’t wrong.
We in the geek community know what the word really means, and we can continue to use it that way. We haven’t lost the true definition, and we hopefully never will. But we need to stop pretending that words have only one meaning.
Words actually mean what people think they mean, not what they’re “supposed” to mean. In fact, the very concept of “supposed to mean” is a silly one. A dictionary is little more than a time-sensitive collection of the way words are currently being used.
Just because there exists a romantic, “pure” meaning of the word hacker doesn’t mean that the other, more accepted definition is any less real. Language evolves. Many words in today’s dictionary quite simply used to mean something else, and we shouldn’t get militant about it; it’s just reality.
So the next time you hear someone say a “hacker” broke into this, or a hacker stole that, just let it go. They are using one definition of the word correctly. Remember that there’s a big difference between someone calling a computer criminal a hacker (ok), and them calling Wietse Venema a computer criminal (not ok).
Our geek blood demands that we stand against the latter, but maturity demands that we accept the legitimacy of the the former. The trick is knowing the difference.