M: //, pref.

[SI] See quantifiers.

M$: //, abbrev.

Common net abbreviation for Microsoft, everybody’s least favorite monopoly.

macdink: /mak´dink/, vt.

[from the Apple Macintosh, which is said to encourage such behavior] To make many incremental and unnecessary cosmetic changes to a program or file. Often the subject of the macdinking would be better off without them. “When I left at 11PM last night, he was still macdinking the slides for his presentation.” See also fritterware, window shopping.

machoflops: /mach´oh·flops/, n.

[pun on “megaflops”, a coinage for “millions of FLoating-point Operations Per Second”] Refers to artificially inflated performance figures often quoted by computer manufacturers. Real applications are lucky to get half the quoted speed. See Your mileage may vary, benchmark.

Macintoy: /mak´in·toy/, n.

The Apple Macintosh, considered as a toy. Less pejorative than Macintrash.

Macintrash: /mak´in·trash`/, n.

The Apple Macintosh, as described by a hacker who doesn’t appreciate being kept away from the real computer by the interface. (Such folk would rather use Windows if a proper calibre machine isn’t around then? I’ve honestly always wondered.) The term maggotbox has been reported in regular use in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Compare Macintoy. See also WIMP environment, point-and-drool interface, user-friendly.

macro-: //, pref.

Large. Opposite of micro-. In the mainstream and among other technical cultures (for example, medical people) this competes with the prefix mega-, but hackers tend to restrict the latter to quantification.

macro: /mak´roh/, n.

[techspeak] A name (possibly followed by a formal arg list) that is equated to a text or symbolic expression to which it is to be expanded (possibly with the substitution of actual arguments) by a macro expander. This definition can be found in any technical dictionary; what those won’t tell you is how the hackish connotations of the term have changed over time.

The term “macro” originated in early assemblers, which encouraged the use of macros as a structuring and information-hiding device. During the early 1970s, macro assemblers became ubiquitous, and sometimes quite as powerful and expensive as HLLs, only to fall from favor as improving compiler technology marginalized assembler programming (see languages of choice). Nowadays the term is most often used in connection with the C preprocessor, LISP, or one of several special-purpose languages built around a macro-expansion facility (such as TeX or Unix’s [nt]roff suite).

Indeed, the meaning has drifted enough that the collective “macros” is now sometimes used for code in any special-purpose application control language (whether or not the language is actually translated by text expansion), and for macro-like entities such as the “keyboard macros” supported in some text editors (and PC TSR or Macintosh INIT/CDEV keyboard enhancers).

macrology: /mak·rol'@·jee/, n.

1. Set of usually complex or crufty macros, e.g., as part of a large system written in TECO, or (less commonly) assembler.

2. The art and science involved in comprehending a macrology in sense 1. Sometimes studying the macrology of a system is not unlike archeology, ecology, or theology, hence the sound-alike construction. See also boxology.

maggotbox: /mag'@t·boks/, n.

See Macintrash. This is even more derogatory.

magic cookie: //, n.

[Unix; common]

1. Something passed between routines or programs that enables the receiver to perform some operation; a capability ticket or opaque identifier. Especially used of small data objects that contain data encoded in a strange or intrinsically machine-dependent way. E.g., on non-Unix OSes with a non-byte-stream model of files, the result of ftell(3) may be a magic cookie rather than a byte offset; it can be passed to fseek(3), but not operated on in any meaningful way. The phrase “it hands you a magic cookie” means it returns a result whose contents are not defined but which can be passed back to the same or some other program later.

2. An in-band code for changing graphic rendition (e.g., inverse video or underlining) or performing other control functions (see also cookie). Some older terminals would leave a blank on the screen corresponding to mode-change magic cookies; this was also called a glitch (or occasionally a “turd”; compare mouse droppings). See also cookie.

magic number: //, n.

[Unix/C; common]

1. In source code, some non-obvious constant whose value is significant to the operation of a program and that is inserted inconspicuously in-line (hardcoded), rather than expanded in by a symbol set by a commented #define. Magic numbers in this sense are bad style.

2. A number that encodes critical information used in an algorithm in some opaque way. The classic examples of these are the numbers used in hash or CRC functions, or the coefficients in a linear congruential generator for pseudo-random numbers. This sense actually predates and was ancestral to the more common sense

3. Special data located at the beginning of a binary data file to indicate its type to a utility. Under Unix, the system and various applications programs (especially the linker) distinguish between types of executable file by looking for a magic number. Once upon a time, these magic numbers were PDP-11 branch instructions that skipped over header data to the start of executable code; 0407, for example, was octal for “branch 16 bytes relative”. Many other kinds of files now have magic numbers somewhere; some magic numbers are, in fact, strings, like the !<arch> at the beginning of a Unix archive file or the %! leading PostScript files. Nowadays only a wizard knows the spells to create magic numbers. How do you choose a fresh magic number of your own? Simple – you pick one at random. See? It’s magic!

4. An input that leads to a computational boundary condition, where algorithm behavior becomes discontinuous. Numeric overflows (particularly with signed data types) and run-time errors (divide by zero, stack overflows) are indications of magic numbers. The Y2K scare was probably the most notorious magic number non-incident.

The magic number, on the other hand, is 7±2. See The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information by George Miller, in the Psychological Review 63:81-97 (1956). This classic paper established the number of distinct items (such as numeric digits) that humans can hold in short-term memory. Among other things, this strongly influenced the interface design of the phone system.

magic smoke: //, n.

A substance trapped inside IC packages that enables them to function (also called “blue smoke”; this is similar to the archaic “phlogiston” hypothesis about combustion). Its existence is demonstrated by what happens when a chip burns up – the magic smoke gets let out, so it doesn’t work any more. See smoke test, let the smoke out.

Usenetter Jay Maynard tells the following story: “Once, while hacking on a dedicated Z80 system, I was testing code by blowing EPROMs and plugging them in the system, then seeing what happened. One time, I plugged one in backwards. I only discovered that after I realized that Intel didn’t put power-on lights under the quartz windows on the tops of their EPROMs – the die was glowing white-hot. Amazingly, the EPROM worked fine after I erased it, filled it full of zeros, then erased it again. For all I know, it’s still in service. Of course, this is because the magic smoke didn’t get let out.” Compare the original phrasing of Murphy’s Law.

magic: //, n.

1. adj. As yet unexplained, or too complicated to explain; compare automagically and (Arthur C.) Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” “TTY echoing is controlled by a large number of magic bits.” “This routine magically computes the parity of an 8-bit byte in three instructions.”

2. adj. Characteristic of something that works although no one really understands why (this is especially called black magic).

3. n. [Stanford] A feature not generally publicized that allows something otherwise impossible, or a feature formerly in that category but now unveiled.

4. n. The ultimate goal of all engineering & development, elegance in the extreme; from the first corollary to Clarke’s Third Law: “Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced”.

Parodies playing on these senses of the term abound; some have made their way into serious documentation, as when a MAGIC directive was described in the Control Card Reference for GCOS c.1978. For more about hackish “magic”, see Appendix A. Compare black magic, deep magic, heavy wizardry.

mail storm: //, n.

[from broadcast storm, influenced by maelstrom] What often happens when a machine with an Internet connection and active users re-connects after extended downtime – a flood of incoming mail that brings the machine to its knees. See also hairball.

mailbomb: //, n.

(also "mail bomb") [Usenet]

1. v. To send, or urge others to send, massive amounts of email to a single system or person, esp. with intent to crash or spam the recipient’s system. Sometimes done in retaliation for a perceived serious offense. Mailbombing is itself widely regarded as a serious offense – it can disrupt email traffic or other facilities for innocent users on the victim’s system, and in extreme cases, even at upstream sites.

2. n. An automatic procedure with a similar effect.

3. n. The mail sent. Compare nastygram, BLOB (sense 2), list-bomb.

mailing list: //, n.

(often shortened in context to "list")

1. An email address that is an alias (or macro, though that word is never used in this connection) for many other email addresses. Some mailing lists are simple “reflectors”, redirecting mail sent to them to the list of recipients. Others are filtered by humans or programs of varying degrees of sophistication; lists filtered by humans are said to be “moderated”.

2. The people who receive your email when you send it to such an address.

Mailing lists are one of the primary forms of hacker interaction, along with Usenet. They predate Usenet, having originated with the first UUCP and ARPANET connections. They are often used for private information-sharing on topics that would be too specialized for or inappropriate to public Usenet groups. Though some of these maintain almost purely technical content (such as the Internet Engineering Task Force mailing list), others (like the “sf-lovers” list maintained for many years by Saul Jaffe) are recreational, and many are purely social. Perhaps the most infamous of the social lists was the eccentric bandykin distribution; its latter-day progeny, lectroids and tanstaafl, still include a number of the oddest and most interesting people in hackerdom.

Mailing lists are easy to create and (unlike Usenet) don’t tie up a significant amount of machine resources (until they get very large, at which point they can become interesting torture tests for mail software). Thus, they are often created temporarily by working groups, the members of which can then collaborate on a project without ever needing to meet face-to-face. Much of the material in this lexicon was criticized and polished on just such a mailing list (called “jargon-friends”), which included all the co-authors of Steele-1983.

main loop: //, n.

The top-level control flow construct in an input- or event-driven program, the one which receives and acts or dispatches on the program’s input. See also driver.

mainframe: //, n.

Term originally referring to the cabinet containing the central processor unit or “main frame” of a room-filling Stone Age batch machine. After the emergence of smaller “minicomputer” designs in the early 1970s, the traditional big iron machines were described as “mainframe computers” and eventually just as mainframes. The term carries the connotation of a machine designed for batch rather than interactive use, though possibly with an interactive timesharing operating system retrofitted onto it; it is especially used of machines built by IBM, Unisys, and the other great dinosaurs surviving from computing’s Stone Age.

It has been common wisdom among hackers since the late 1980s that the mainframe architectural tradition is essentially dead (outside of the tiny market for number-crunching supercomputers having been swamped by the recent huge advances in IC technology and low-cost personal computing. The wave of failures, takeovers, and mergers among traditional mainframe makers in the early 1990s bore this out. The biggest mainframer of all, IBM, was compelled to re-invent itself as a huge systems-consulting house. (See dinosaurs mating and killer micro).

However, in yet another instance of the cycle of reincarnation, the port of Linux to the IBM S/390 architecture in 1999 – assisted by IBM – produced a resurgence of interest in mainframe computing as a way of providing huge quantities of easily maintainable, reliable virtual Linux servers, saving IBM’s mainframe division from almost certain extinction.

mainsleaze: //, n.

1. Spam emitted by a reputable, mainstream company (as opposed to fly-by-night Viagra peddlers and the like). Sometime this happens in honest ignorance, but the reputation danage can take years to live down.

2. Occasionally used for a big-time spammer, with its own fat pipe, their own mailservers, and a pink contract. Almost impossible to get shut down.

malware: //, n.

[Common] Malicious software. Software intended to cause consequences the unwitting user would not choose; especially used of Trojan horse software.

man page: //, n.

A page from the Unix Programmer’s Manual, documenting one of Unix’s many commands, system calls, library subroutines, device driver interfaces, file formats, games, macro packages, or maintenance utilities. By extension, the term “man page” may be used to refer to documentation of any kind, under any system, though it is most likely to be confined to short on-line references.

As mentioned in Chapter 11, Other Lexicon Conventions, there is a standard syntax for referring to man page entries: the phrase “foo(n)” refers to the page for “foo” in chapter n of the manual, where chapter 1 is user commands, chapter 2 is system calls, etc.

The man page format is beloved, or berated, for having the same sort of pithy utility as the rest of Unix. Man pages tend to be written as very compact, concise descriptions which are complete but not forgiving of the lazy or careless reader. Their stylized format does a good job of summarizing the essentials: invocation syntax, options, basic functionality. While such a concise reference is perfect for the do-one-thing-and-do-it-well tools which are favored by the Unix philosophy, it admittedly breaks down when applied to a command which is itself a major subsystem.

management: //, n.

1. Corporate power elites distinguished primarily by their distance from actual productive work and their chronic failure to manage (see also suit). Spoken derisively, as in “Management decided that...”.

2. Mythically, a vast bureaucracy responsible for all the world’s minor irritations. Hackers' satirical public notices are often signed “The Mgt”; this derives from the Illuminatus novels (see the Bibliography in Appendix C).

mandelbug: /man´del·buhg/, n.

[from the Mandelbrot set] A bug whose underlying causes are so complex and obscure as to make its behavior appear chaotic or even non-deterministic. This term implies that the speaker thinks it is a Bohr bug, rather than a heisenbug. See also schroedinbug.

manged: /mahnjd/, n.

[probably from the French “manger” or Italian “mangiare”, to eat; perhaps influenced by English “mange”, “mangy”] adj. Refers to anything that is mangled or damaged, usually beyond repair. “The disk was manged after the electrical storm.” Compare mung.

mangle: //, vt.

1. Used similarly to mung or scribble, but more violent in its connotations; something that is mangled has been irreversibly and totally trashed.

2. To produce the mangled name corresponding to a C++ declaration.

mangled name: //, n.

A name, appearing in a C++ object file, that is a coded representation of the object declaration as it appears in the source. Mangled names are used because C++ allows multiple objects to have the same name, as long as they are distinguishable in some other way, such as by having different parameter types. Thus, the internal name must have that additional information embedded in it, using the limited character set allowed by most linkers. For instance, one popular compiler encodes the standard library function declaration “memchr(const void*,int,unsigned int)” as “@memchr$qpxviui”.

mangler: //, n.

[DEC] A manager. Compare management. Note that system mangler is somewhat different in connotation.

manularity: /man`yoo·la´ri·tee/, n.

[prob. fr. techspeak “manual” + “granularity”] A notional measure of the manual labor required for some task, particularly one of the sort that automation is supposed to eliminate. “Composing English on paper has much higher manularity than using a text editor, especially in the revising stage.” Hackers tend to consider manularity a symptom of primitive methods; in fact, a true hacker confronted with an apparent requirement to do a computing task by hand will inevitably seize the opportunity to build another tool (see toolsmith).

marbles: //, pl. n.

[from mainstream “lost all his/her marbles”] The minimum needed to build your way further up some hierarchy of tools or abstractions. After a bad system crash, you need to determine if the machine has enough marbles to come up on its own, or enough marbles to allow a rebuild from backups, or if you need to rebuild from scratch. “This compiler doesn’t even have enough marbles to compile hello world.”

marching ants: //, n.

The animated dotted-line marquee that indicates a rectangle or item select in Adobe Photoshop, the GIMP, and other similar image-editing programs.

marginal: //, adj.


1. [techspeak] An extremely small change. “A marginal increase in core can decrease GC time drastically.” In everyday terms, this means that it is a lot easier to clean off your desk if you have a spare place to put some of the junk while you sort through it.

2. Of little merit. “This proposed new feature seems rather marginal to me.”

3. Of extremely small probability of winning. "The power supply was rather marginal anyway; no wonder it fried."

marginally: //, adv.

Slightly. “The ravs here are only marginally better than at Small Eating Place.” See epsilon.

marketroid: /mar´k@·troyd/, n.

alt.: “marketing slime”, “marketeer”, “mar­ket­ing droid”, “marketdroid”. A member of a company’s marketing department, esp. one who promises users that the next version of a product will have features that are not actually scheduled for inclusion, are extremely difficult to implement, and/or are in violation of the laws of physics; and/or one who describes existing features (and misfeatures) in ebullient, buzzword-laden adspeak. Derogatory. Compare droid.

Mars: //, n.

A legendary tragic failure, the archetypal Hacker Dream Gone Wrong. Mars was the code name for a family of PDP-10-compatible computers built by Systems Concepts (now, The SC Group): the multi-processor SC-30M, the small uniprocessor SC-25, and the never-built superprocessor SC-40. These machines were marvels of engineering design; although not much slower than the unique Foonly F-1, they were physically smaller and consumed less power than the much slower DEC KS10 or Foonly F-2, F-3, or F-4 machines. They were also completely compatible with the DEC KL10, and ran all KL10 binaries (including the operating system) with no modifications at about 2-3 times faster than a KL10.

When DEC cancelled the Jupiter project in 1983 (their followup to the PDP-10), Systems Concepts should have made a bundle selling their machine into shops with a lot of software investment in PDP-10s, and in fact their spring 1984 announcement generated a great deal of excitement in the PDP-10 world. TOPS-10 was running on the Mars by the summer of 1984, and TOPS-20 by early fall. Unfortunately, the hackers running Systems Concepts were much better at designing machines than at mass producing or selling them; the company allowed itself to be sidetracked by a bout of perfectionism into continually improving the design, and lost credibility as delivery dates continued to slip. They also overpriced the product ridiculously; they believed they were competing with the KL10 and VAX 8600 and failed to reckon with the likes of Sun Microsystems and other hungry startups building workstations with power comparable to the KL10 at a fraction of the price. By the time SC shipped the first SC-30M to Stanford in late 1985, most customers had already made the traumatic decision to abandon the PDP-10, usually for VMS or Unix boxes. Most of the Mars computers built ended up being purchased by CompuServe.

This tale and the related saga of Foonly hold a lesson for hackers: if you want to play in the Real World, you need to learn Real World moves.

martian: //, n.

A packet sent on a TCP/IP network with a source address of the test loopback interface []. This means that it will come back labeled with a source address that is clearly not of this earth. “The domain server is getting lots of packets from Mars. Does that gateway have a martian filter?” Compare Godzillagram.

massage: //, vt.

[common] Vague term used to describe “smooth” transformations of a data set into a different form, esp. transformations that do not lose information. Connotes less pain than munch or crunch. “He wrote a program that massages X bitmap files into GIF format.” Compare slurp.

math-out: //, n.

[poss. from “white-out” (the blizzard variety)] A paper or presentation so encrusted with mathematical or other formal notation as to be incomprehensible. This may be a device for concealing the fact that it is actually content-free. See also social science number.

A math-out approach to history.
(The next cartoon in the Crunchly saga is 73-05-19. The previous one is the frontispiece.)

Matrix: //, n.


1. What the Opus BBS software and sysops call cyberspace expected to emerge from current networking experiments (see the network). The name of the rather good 1999 cypherpunk movie The Matrix played on this sense, which however had been established for years before.

2. The totality of present-day computer networks (popularized in this sense by John Quarterman; rare outside academic literature).

maximum Maytag mode: //, n.

What a washing machine or, by extension, any disk drive is in when it’s being used so heavily that it’s shaking like an old Maytag with an unbalanced load. If prolonged for any length of time, can lead to disks becoming walking drives. In 1999 it’s been some years since hard disks were large enough to do this, but the same phenomenon has recently been reported with 24X CD-ROM drives.

McQuary limit: //, n.

[from the name of the founder of alt.fan.warlord; see warlording.] 4 lines of at most 80 characters each, sometimes still cited on Usenet as the maximum acceptable size of a sig block. Before the great bandwidth explosion of the early 1990s, long sigs actually cost people running Usenet servers significant amounts of money. Nowadays social pressure against long sigs is intended to avoid waste of human attention rather than machine bandwidth. Accordingly, the McQuary limit should be considered a rule of thumb rather than a hard limit; it’s best to avoid sigs that are large, repetitive, and distracting. See also warlording.

meatspace: /meet´spays/, n.

The physical world, where the meat lives – as opposed to cyberspace. Hackers are actually more willing to use this term than “cyberspace”, because it’s not speculative – we already have a running meatspace implementation (the universe). Compare RL.

Unfortunately, this term is rather repulsive for those of us who are body-positive and don’t view our bodies as something like a side of beef being maltreated at a butcher’s shop. In a body-positive crowd, I suspect Real World is preferred, although this does leave the epistemological questions about “reality” on-line. After all, a practical definition of “real acts” would be those that involve consequences you cannot avoid simply by deleting a file or walking away. So if a “real world” is where you can carry out “real acts” then cyberspace can be such a world at least in certain instances. Conversely, in the real world some actions can be ignored, and “cyber-” is a term originally referring to extensions to or replacements to lost parts of the body. So overall, it would be nice to have a non-pejorative term for the space outside the computer. For a suggested alternative, see firmspace. At this point, “cyberspace” doesn’t appear to carry negative connotations of unreality, so that base is already covered.

meatware: //, n.

Synonym for wetware. Less common.

meeces: /mees'@z/, n.

[TMRC] Occasional furry visitors who are not urchins. [That is, mice. This may no longer be in live use; it clearly derives from the refrain of the early-1960s cartoon character Mr. Jinks: “I hate meeces to pieces!” – ESR]

meg: /meg/, n.

See quantifiers.

mega-: /me´g@/, pref.

[SI] See quantifiers.

megapenny: /meg'@·pen`ee/, n.

$10,000 (1 cent * 106). Used semi-humorously as a unit in comparing computer cost and performance figures. As of 2016, pennies are no longer minted in Canada, and its grandcousins the German and Swedish pfennigs are also no longer in circulation. Despite the spleen of Americans advocating for the end of the penny in that country, it continues in all its copper-coated zinc slug glory.

MEGO: /me´goh/, /mee´goh/, prov.

[“My Eyes Glaze Over”, often “Mine Eyes Glazeth (sic) Over”, attributed to the futurologist Herman Kahn] Also “MEGO factor”.

1. n. A handwave intended to confuse the listener and hopefully induce agreement because the listener does not want to admit to not understanding what is going on. MEGO is usually directed at senior management by engineers and contains a high proportion of TLAs.

2. excl. An appropriate response to MEGO tactics.

3. Among non-hackers, often refers not to behavior that causes the eyes to glaze, but to the eye-glazing reaction itself, which may be triggered by the mere threat of excessive technical detail as effectively as by an actual excess of it.

meltdown, network: //, n.

See network meltdown.

meme plague: //, n.

The spread of a successful but pernicious meme, esp. one that parasitizes the victims into giving their all to propagate it. Astrology, BASIC, and the other guy’s religion are often considered to be examples. This usage is given point by the historical fact that “joiner” ideologies like Naziism or various forms of millennarian Christianity have exhibited plague-like cycles of exponential growth followed by collapses to small reservoir populations.

meme: /meem/, n.

[coined by analogy with “gene”, by Richard Dawkins] An idea considered as a replicator, esp. with the connotation that memes parasitize people into propagating them much as viruses do. Used esp. in the phrase “meme complex” denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organized belief system, such as a religion. This lexicon is an (epidemiological) vector of the “hacker subculture” meme complex; each entry might be considered a meme. However, “meme” is often misused to mean “meme complex”. Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that in humans (and presumably other tool- and language-using sophonts) cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has superseded biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits. Hackers find this idea congenial for tolerably obvious reasons.

memetics: /me·met´iks/, n.

[from meme] The study of memes. As of early 2003, this is still an extremely informal and speculative endeavor, though the first steps towards at least statistical rigor have been made by H. Keith Henson and others. Memetics is a popular topic for speculation among hackers, who like to see themselves as the architects of the new information ecologies in which memes live and replicate.

memory farts: //, n.

The flatulent sounds that some DOS box BIOSes (most notably AMI’s) make when checking memory on bootup.

memory leak: //, n.

An error in a program’s dynamic-store allocation logic that causes it to fail to reclaim discarded memory, leading to eventual collapse due to memory exhaustion. Also (esp. at CMU) called core leak. These problems were severe on older machines with small, fixed-size address spaces, and special “leak detection” tools were commonly written to root them out. With the advent of virtual memory, it is unfortunately easier to be sloppy about wasting a bit of memory (although when you run out of memory on a VM machine, it means you’ve got a real leak!). See aliasing bug, fandango on core, precedence lossage, leaky heap, leak.

memory smash: //, n.

[XEROX PARC] Writing through a pointer that doesn’t point to what you think it does. This occasionally reduces your memory to a rubble of bits. Note that this is subtly different from (and more general than) related terms such as a memory leak or fandango on core because it doesn’t imply an allocation error or overrun condition.

menuitis: /men`yoo·i:´tis/, n.

Notional disease suffered by software with an obsessively simple-minded menu interface and no escape. Hackers find this intensely irritating and much prefer the flexibility of command-line or language-style interfaces, especially those customizable via macros or a special-purpose language in which one can encode useful hacks. See user-obsequious, WIMP environment, for the rest of us.

mess-dos: /mes·dos/, n.

[semi-obsolescent now that DOS is] Derisory term for MS-DOS. Often followed by the ritual banishing “Just say No!” See MS-DOS. Most hackers (even many MS-DOS hackers) loathed MS-DOS for its single-tasking nature, its limits on application size, its nasty primitive interface, and its ties to IBMness and Microsoftness (see fear and loathing). Also “mess-loss”, “messy-dos”, “mess-dog”, “mess-dross”, “mush-dos”, and various combinations thereof. In Ireland and the U.K. it is even sometimes called “Domestos” after a brand of toilet cleanser.

meta bit: //, n.

The top bit of an 8-bit character, which is on in character values 128-255. Also called high bit, alt bit. Some terminals and consoles (see space-cadet keyboard) have a META shift key. Others (including, mirabile dictu, keyboards on IBM PC-class machines) have an ALT key. See also bucky bits.

Historical note: although in modern usage shaped by a universe of 8-bit bytes the meta bit is invariably hex 80 (octal 0200), things were different on earlier machines with 36-bit words and 9-bit bytes. The MIT and Stanford keyboards (see space-cadet keyboard) generated hex 100 (octal 400) from their meta keys.

meta: /me´t@/, /may´t@/, /mee´t@/, pref.

[from analytic philosophy] One level of description up. A metasyntactic variable is a variable in notation used to describe syntax, and meta-language is language used to describe language. This is difficult to explain briefly, but much hacker humor turns on deliberate confusion between meta-levels. See hacker humor.

metasyntactic variable: //, n.

A name used in examples and understood to stand for whatever thing is under discussion, or any random member of a class of things under discussion. The word foo is the canonical example. To avoid confusion, hackers never (well, hardly ever) use “foo” or other words like it as permanent names for anything. In filenames, a common convention is that any filename beginning with a metasyntactic-variable name is a scratch file that may be deleted at any time.

Metasyntactic variables are so called because (1) they are variables in the metalanguage used to talk about programs etc; (2) they are variables whose values are often variables (as in usages like “the value of f(foo,bar) is the sum of foo and bar”). However, it has been plausibly suggested that the real reason for the term “metasyntactic variable” is that it sounds good. To some extent, the list of one’s preferred metasyntactic variables is a cultural signature. They occur both in series (used for related groups of variables or objects) and as singletons. Here are a few common signatures:

foo, bar, baz, quux, quuux, quuuux...: MIT/Stanford usage, now found everywhere (thanks largely to early versions of this lexicon!). At MIT (but not at Stanford), baz dropped out of use for a while in the 1970s and '80s. A common recent mutation of this sequence inserts qux before quux.
bazola, ztesch:Stanford (from mid-'70s on).
foo, bar, thud, grunt:This series was popular at CMU. Other CMU-associated variables include gorp.
foo, bar, bletch: Waterloo University. We are informed that the CS club at Waterloo formerly had a sign on its door reading "Ye Olde Foo Bar and Grill" this led to an attempt to establish "grill" as the third metasyntactic variable, but it never caught on.
foo, bar, fum:This series is reported to be common at XEROX PARC.
fred, jim, sheila, barney:See the entry for fred. These tend to be Britishisms.
flarp:Popular at Rutgers University and among GOSMACS hackers.
zxc, spqr, wombat:Cambridge University (England).
shmeBerkeley, GeoWorks, Ingres. Pronounced /shme/ with a short /e/.
foo, bar, baz, bongoYale, late 1970s.
spam, eggsPython programmers.
snorkBrown University, early 1970s.
foo, bar, zotHelsinki University of Technology, Finland.
blarg, wibbleNew Zealand.
toto, titi, tata, tutuFrance.
pippo, pluto, paperinoItaly. Pippo /pee´´po/ and Paperino /pa·per·ee'·no/ are the Italian names for Goofy and Donald Duck.
aap, noot, miesThe Netherlands. These are the first words a child used to learn to spell on a Dutch spelling board.
oogle, foogle, boogle; zork, gork, borkThese two series (which may be continued with other initial consonents) are reportedly common in England, and said to go back to Lewis Carroll.

Of all these, only “foo” and “bar” are universal (and baz nearly so). The compounds foobar and “foobaz” also enjoy very wide currency. Some jargon terms are also used as metasyntactic names; mumble, for example. See also Commonwealth Hackish for discussion of numerous metasyntactic variables found in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.

MFTL: /M·F·T·L/, n.

[abbreviation: “My Favorite Toy Language”]

1. adj. Describes a talk on a programming language design that is heavy on the syntax (with lots of BNF), sometimes even talks about semantics (e.g., type systems), but rarely, if ever, has any content (see content-free). More broadly applied to talks – even when the topic is not a programming language – in which the subject matter is gone into in unnecessary and meticulous detail at the sacrifice of any conceptual content. “Well, it was a typical MFTL talk”.

2. n. Describes a language about which the developers are passionate (often to the point of proselytic zeal) but no one else cares about. Applied to the language by those outside the originating group. “He cornered me about type resolution in his MFTL.”

The first great goal in the mind of the designer of an MFTL is usually to write a compiler for it, then bootstrap the design away from contamination by lesser languages by writing a compiler for it in itself. Thus, the standard put-down question at an MFTL talk is “Has it been used for anything besides its own compiler?” On the other hand, a (compiled) language that cannot even be used to write its own compiler is beneath contempt. (The qualification has become necessary because of the increasing popularity of interpreted languages like Python.) See break-even point. (On a related note, Doug McIlroy once proposed a test of the generality and utility of a language and the operating system under which it is compiled: “Is the output of a FORTRAN program acceptable as input to the FORTRAN compiler?” In other words, can you write programs that write programs? (See toolsmith.) Alarming numbers of (language, OS) pairs fail this test, particularly when the language is FORTRAN; aficionados are quick to point out that Unix (even using FORTRAN) passes it handily. That the test could ever be failed is only surprising to those who have had the good fortune to have worked only under modern systems which lack OS-supported and -imposed “file types”.)

mickey mouse program: //, n.

North American equivalent of a noddy (that is, trivial) program. Doesn’t necessarily have the belittling connotations of mainstream slang “Oh, that’s just mickey mouse stuff!”; sometimes trivial programs can be very useful.

mickey: //, n.

The resolution unit of mouse movement. It has been suggested that the “disney” will become a benchmark unit for animation graphics performance.

micro-: //, pref.

1. Very small; this is the root of its use as a quantifier prefix.

2. A quantifier prefix, calling for multiplication by 10-6 (see quantifiers). Neither of these uses is peculiar to hackers, but hackers tend to fling them both around rather more freely than is countenanced in standard English. It is recorded, for example, that one CS professor used to characterize the standard length of his lectures as a microcentury – that is, about 52.6 minutes (see also nanoacre, and especially microfortnight).

3. Personal or human-scale – that is, capable of being maintained or comprehended or manipulated by one human being. This sense is generalized from “microcomputer”, and is esp. used in contrast with “macro-” (the corresponding Greek prefix meaning “large”).

4. Local as opposed to global (or macro-). Thus a hacker might say that buying a smaller car to reduce pollution only solves a microproblem; the macroproblem of getting to work might be better solved by using mass transit, moving to within walking distance, or (best of all) telecommuting.

MicroDroid: //, n.

[Usenet] A Microsoft employee, esp. one who posts to various operating-system advocacy newsgroups. MicroDroids post follow-ups to any messages critical of Microsoft’s operating systems, and often end up sounding like visiting fundamentalist missionaries. See also astroturfing; compare microserf.

microfortnight: //, n.

1/1000000 of the fundamental unit of time in the Furlong/Firkin/Fortnight system of measurement; 1.2096 sec. (A furlong is 1/8th of a mile; a firkin is 9 imperial gallons; the mass unit of the system is taken to be a firkin of water). The VMS operating system has a lot of tuning parameters that you can set with the SYSGEN utility, and one of these is TIMEPROMPTWAIT, the time the system will wait for an operator to set the correct date and time at boot if it realizes that the current value is bogus. This time is specified in microfortnights!

Multiple uses of the millifortnight (about 20 minutes) and nanofortnight have also been reported.

microLenat: /mi:`·kroh·len'·@t/, n.

The unit of bogosity. Abbreviated µL or mL in ASCII Consensus is that this is the largest unit practical for everyday use. The microLenat, originally invented by David Jefferson, was promulgated as an attack against noted computer scientist Doug Lenat by a tenured graduate student at CMU. Doug had failed the student on an important exam because the student gave only “AI is bogus” as his answer to the questions. The slur is generally considered unmerited, but it has become a running gag nevertheless. Some of Doug’s friends argue that of course a microLenat is bogus, since it is only one millionth of a Lenat. Others have suggested that the unit should be redesignated after the grad student, as the microReid.

microReid: /mi:´kroh·reed/, n.

See microLenat.

micros~1: //, abbrev.

An abbreviation of the full name Microsoft resembling the rather bogus way Windows 9x’s VFAT filesystem truncates long file names to fit in the MS-DOS 8+3 scheme (the real filename is stored elsewhere). If other files start with the same prefix, they’ll be called micros~2 and so on, causing lots of problems with backups and other routine system-administration problems. During the US Antitrust trial against Microsoft the names Micros~1 and Micros~2 were suggested for the two companies that would exist after a break-up.

microserf: /mi:´kro·s@rf/, n.

[popularized, though not originated, by Douglas Coupland’s book Microserfs] A programmer at Microsoft, especially a low-level coder with little chance of fame or fortune. Compare MicroDroid.

Microsloth Windows: /mi:´kroh·sloth` win´dohz/, n.

(Variants combine {Microshift, Macroshaft, Microsuck} with {Windoze, WinDOS}. Hackerism(s) for “Microsoft Windows”. A thirty-two bit extension and graphical shell to a sixteen-bit patch to an eight-bit operating system originally coded for a four-bit microprocessor which was written by a two-bit company that can’t stand one bit of competition. Also just called Windoze, with the implication that you can fall asleep waiting for it to do anything; the latter term is extremely common on Usenet. See Blue Screen of Death; compare sun-stools.

Microsoft: //, n.

The new Evil Empire (the old one was IBM). The basic complaints are, as formerly with IBM, that (a) their system designs are horrible botches, (b) we can’t get source to fix them, and (c) they throw their weight around a lot. See also Halloween Documents.

middle-endian: //, adj.

Not big-endian or little-endian. Used of perverse byte orders such as 3-4-1-2 or 2-1-4-3, occasionally found in the packed-decimal formats of minicomputer manufacturers who shall remain nameless. See NUXI problem. Non-US hackers use this term to describe the American mm/dd/yy style of writing dates (Europeans write little-endian dd/mm/yy, and Japanese use big-endian yy/mm/dd for Western dates).

middle-out implementation: //, n.

See bottom-up implementation.

milliLampson: /mil'@·lamp`sn/, n.

A unit of talking speed, abbreviated mL. Most people run about 200 milliLampsons. The eponymous Butler Lampson (a CS theorist and systems implementor highly regarded among hackers) goes at 1000. A few people speak faster. This unit is sometimes used to compare the (sometimes widely disparate) rates at which people can generate ideas and actually emit them in speech. For example, noted computer architect C. Gordon Bell (designer of the PDP-11) is said, with some awe, to think at about 1200 mL but only talk at about 300; he is frequently reduced to fragments of sentences as his mouth tries to keep up with his speeding brain.

minor detail: //, n.

Often used in an ironic sense about brokenness or problems that while apparently major, are in principle solvable. “It works – the fact that it crashes the system right after is a minor detail.” Compare SMOP.

MIPS: /mips/, n.


1. A measure of computing speed; formally, "Million Instructions Per Second" (that’s 106 per second, not 220!); often rendered by hackers as “Meaningless Indication of Processor Speed” or in other unflattering ways, such as “Meaningless Information Provided by Salesmen”. This joke expresses an attitude nearly universal among hackers about the value of most benchmark claims, said attitude being one of the great cultural divides between hackers and marketroids (see also BogoMIPS). The singular is sometimes “1 MIP” even though this is clearly etymologically wrong. See also GIPS.

2. Computers, especially large computers, considered abstractly as sources of computrons. “This is just a workstation; the heavy MIPS are hidden in the basement.”

3. The corporate name of a particular RISC-chip company, later acquired by SGI.

4. Acronym for “Meaningless Information per Second” (a joke, prob.: from sense 1).

misbug: /mis·buhg/, n.

[MIT; rare (like its referent)] An unintended property of a program that turns out to be useful; something that should have been a bug but turns out to be a feature. Compare miswart.

misfeature: /mis·fee´chr/, /mis´fee`chr/, n.

[common] A feature that eventually causes lossage, possibly because it is not adequate for a new situation that has evolved. Since it results from a deliberate and properly implemented feature, a misfeature is not a bug. Nor is it a simple unforeseen side effect; the term implies that the feature in question was carefully planned, but its long-term consequences were not accurately or adequately predicted (which is quite different from not having thought ahead at all). A misfeature can be a particularly stubborn problem to resolve, because fixing it usually involves a substantial philosophical change to the structure of the system involved.

Many misfeatures (especially in user-interface design) arise because the designers/implementors mistake their personal tastes for laws of nature. Often a former feature becomes a misfeature because trade-offs were made whose parameters subsequently change (possibly only in the judgment of the implementors). “Well, yeah, it is kind of a misfeature that file names are limited to six characters, but the original implementors wanted to save directory space and we’re stuck with it for now.”

missile address: //, n.

See ICBM address.

MiSTing: //, v. part.

[blogosphere] A variant of fisking patterned on the protocol of Mystery Science Theater 3000, In a MiSTing, the satire is spoken through characters purporting to be the MST3K robots or other suitably bizarre characters, such as the Roman emperors Augustus and Caligula.

miswart: /mis·wort/, n.

[from wart by analogy with misbug] A feature that superficially appears to be a wart but has been determined to be the Right Thing. For example, in some versions of the EMACS text editor, the “transpose characters” command exchanges the character under the cursor with the one before it on the screen, except when the cursor is at the end of a line, in which case the two characters before the cursor are exchanged. While this behavior is perhaps surprising, and certainly inconsistent, it has been found through extensive experimentation to be what most users want. This feature is a miswart.

MMF: //, abbrev.

[Usenet; common] Abbreviation: “Make Money Fast”. Refers to any kind of scheme which promises participants large profits with little or no risk or effort. Typically, it is a some kind of multi-level marketing operation which involves recruiting more members, or an illegal pyramid scam. The term is also used to refer to any kind of spam which promotes this. For more information, see the Make Money Fast Myth Page.

mobo: /moh´bo/, n.

Written and (rarely) spoken contraction of “motherboard”

moby: /moh´bee/, adj.

[MIT: seems to have been in use among model railroad fans years ago. Derived from Melville’s Moby Dick (some say from “Moby Pickle”). Now common.]

1. adj. Large, immense, complex, impressive. “A Saturn V rocket is a truly moby frob.” “Some MIT undergrads pulled off a moby hack at the Harvard-Yale game.” (See Appendix A for discussion.)

2. n. obs. The maximum address space of a machine (see below). For a 680[234]0 or VAX or most modern 32-bit architectures, it is 4,294,967,296 8-bit bytes (4 gigabytes).

3. A title of address (never of third-person reference), usually used to show admiration, respect, and/or friendliness to a competent hacker. “Greetings, moby Dave. How’s that address-book thing for the Mac going?”

4. adj. In backgammon, doubles on the dice, as in “moby sixes”, “moby ones”, etc. Compare this with bignum (sense 3): double sixes are both bignums and moby sixes, but moby ones are not bignums (the use of “moby” to describe double ones is sarcastic). Standard emphatic forms: “Moby foo”, “moby win”, “moby loss”. “Foby moo”: a spoonerism due to Richard Greenblatt.

5. The largest available unit of something which is available in discrete increments. Thus, ordering a “moby Coke” at the local fast-food joint is not just a request for a large Coke, it’s an explicit request for the largest size they sell.

This term entered hackerdom with the Fabritek 256K memory added to the MIT AI PDP-6 machine, which was considered unimaginably huge when it was installed in the 1960s (at a time when a more typical memory size for a timesharing system was 72 kilobytes). Thus, a moby is classically 256K 36-bit words, the size of a PDP-6 or PDP-10 moby. Back when address registers were narrow the term was more generally useful, because when a computer had virtual memory mapping, it might actually have more physical memory attached to it than any one program could access directly. One could then say “This computer has 6 mobies” meaning that the ratio of physical memory to address space is 6, without having to say specifically how much memory there actually is. That in turn implied that the computer could timeshare six “full-sized” programs without having to swap programs between memory and disk.

Nowadays the low cost of processor logic means that address spaces are usually larger than the most physical memory you can cram onto a machine, so most systems have much less than one theoretical “native” moby of core. Also, more modern memory-management techniques (esp. paging) make the “moby count” less significant. However, there is one series of widely-used chips for which the term could stand to be revived – the Intel 8088 and 80286 with their incredibly brain-damaged segmented-memory designs. On these, a “moby” would be the 1-megabyte address span of a segment/offset pair (by coincidence, a PDP-10 moby was exactly 1 megabyte of 9-bit bytes).

mockingbird: //, n.

Software that intercepts communications (especially login transactions) between users and hosts and provides system-like responses to the users while saving their responses (especially account IDs and passwords). A special case of Trojan horse.

mod: //, vt., n.

[very common]

Short for “modify” or “modification”. Very commonly used – in fact the full terms are considered markers that one is being formal. The plural “mods” is used esp. with reference to bug fixes or minor design changes in hardware or software, most esp. with respect to patch sets or a modulo but used only for its techspeak sense.

mode bit: //, n.

[common] A flag, usually in hardware, that selects between two (usually quite different) modes of operation. The connotations are different from flag bit in that mode bits are mainly written during a boot or set-up phase, are seldom explicitly read, and seldom change over the lifetime of an ordinary program. The classic example was the EBCDIC-vs.-ASCII bit (#12) of the Program Status Word of the IBM 360.

mode: //, n.

[common] A general state, usually used with an adjective describing the state. Use of the word “mode” rather than “state” implies that the state is extended over time, and probably also that some activity characteristic of that state is being carried out. “No time to hack; I’m in thesis mode.” In its jargon sense, “mode” is most often attributed to people, though it is sometimes applied to programs and inanimate objects. In particular, see day mode, demo mode, fireworks mode, and talk mode.

One also often hears the verbs “enable” and “disable” used in connection with jargon modes. Thus, for example, a sillier way of saying “I’m going to crash” is “I’m going to enable crash mode now”. One might also hear a request to “disable flame mode, please”.

In a usage much closer to techspeak, a mode is a special state that certain user interfaces must pass into in order to perform certain functions. For example, in order to insert characters into a document in the Unix editor vi, one must type the “i” key, which invokes the “Insert” command. The effect of this command is to put vi into “insert mode”, in which typing the “i” key has a quite different effect (to wit, it inserts an “i” into the document). One must then hit another special key, “ESC”, in order to leave “insert mode”. Nowadays, modeful interfaces are generally considered losing but survive in quite a few widely used tools built in less enlightened times.

modulo: /mod´yu·loh/, prep.

Except for. An overgeneralization of mathematical terminology; one can consider saying that 4 equals 22 except for the 9s (4 = 22 mod 9). “Well, LISP seems to work okay now, modulo that GC bug.” “I feel fine today modulo a slight headache.”

mojibake: /mo´jee·ba·ke/, n.

Japanese for “ghost characters”, the garbage that comes out when one tries to display international character sets through software not configured for them. There is a page on the topic at http://www.debian.or.jp/~kubota/mojibake/.

molly-guard: /mol´ee·gard/, n.

[University of Illinois] A shield to prevent tripping of some Big Red Switch by clumsy or ignorant hands. Originally used of the plexiglass covers improvised for the BRS on an IBM 4341 after a programmer’s toddler daughter (named Molly) frobbed it twice in one day. Later generalized to covers over stop/reset switches on disk drives and networking equipment. In hardware catalogues, you’ll see the much less interesting description “guarded button”.

Mongolian Hordes technique: //, n.

[poss. from the Sixties counterculture expression “Mongolian clusterfuck” for a public orgy] Development by gang bang. Implies that large numbers of inexperienced programmers are being put on a job better performed by a few skilled ones (but see bazaar). Also called “Chinese Army technique”; see also Brooks’s Law.

monkey, scratch: //, n.

See scratch monkey.

monkey up: //, vt.

To hack together hardware for a particular task, especially a one-shot job. Connotes an extremely crufty and consciously temporary solution. Compare hack up, kluge up, cruft together.

monstrosity: //, n.

1. n. A ridiculously elephantine program or system, esp. one that is buggy or only marginally functional.

2. adj. The quality of being monstrous (see the section called “Overgeneralization” in the discussion of jargonification). See also baroque.

monty: /mon´tee/, n.

1. [US Geological Survey] A program with a ludicrously complex user interface written to perform extremely trivial tasks. An example would be a menu-driven, button clicking, pulldown, pop-up windows program for listing directories. The original monty was an infamous weather-reporting program, Monty the Amazing Weather Man, written at the USGS. Monty had a widget-packed X-window interface with over 200 buttons; and all monty actually did was files off the network.

2. [Great Britain; commonly capitalized as “Monty”or as “the Full Monty”] 16 megabytes of memory, when fitted to an IBM-PC or compatible. A standard PC-compatible using the AT- or ISA-bus with a normal BIOS cannot access more than 16 megabytes of RAM. Generally used of a PC, Unix workstation, etc. to mean “fully populated with” memory, disk-space or some other desirable resource. See the World Wide Words article “The Full Monty” for discussion of the rather complex etymology that may lie behind this phrase. Compare American moby.

Moof: /moof/, m.

[Macintosh users]

1. n. The call of a semi-legendary creature, properly called the dogcow. (Some previous versions of this entry claimed, incorrectly, that Moof was the name of the creature.)

2. adj. Used to flag software that’s a hack, something untested and on the edge. On one Apple CD-ROM, certain folders such as “Tools & Apps (Moof!)” and “Development Platforms (Moof!)”, are so marked to indicate that they contain software not fully tested or sanctioned by the powers that be. When you open these folders you cross the boundary into hackerland.

3. v. On the Microsoft Network, the term “moof” has gained popularity as a verb meaning “to be suddenly disconnected by the system”. One might say “I got moofed”.

Moore’s Law: /morz law/, prov.

Any one of several similar folk theorems that fit computing capacity or cost to a 2t exponential curve, with doubling time close to a year. The most common fits component density to such a curve (previous versions of this entry gave that form). Another variant asserts that the dollar cost of constant computing power decreases on the same curve. The original Moore’s Law, first uttered in 1965 by semiconductor engineer Gordon Moore (who co-founded Intel four years later), spoke of the number of components on the lowest-cost silicon integrated circuits - but Moore’s own formulation varied somewhat over the years, and reconstructing the meaning of the terminology he used in the original turns out to be fraught with difficulties. Further variants were spawned by Intel’s PR department and various journalists.

It has been shown that none of the variants of Moore’s Law actually fit the data very well (the price curves within DRAM generations perhaps come closest). Nevertheless, Moore’s Law is constantly invoked to set up expectations about the next generation of computing technology. See also Gates’s Law.

moria: /mor´ee·@/, n.

Like nethack and rogue, one of the large PD Dungeons-and-Dragons-like simulation games, available for a wide range of machines and operating systems. The name is from Tolkien’s Mines of Moria; compare elvish. The game is extremely addictive and a major consumer of time better used for hacking. See also nethack, Angband.

MOTAS: /moh·tahz/, n.

[Usenet: Member Of The Appropriate Sex, after MOTOS and MOTSS] A potential or (less often) actual sex partner. See also SO.

MOTOS: /moh·tohs/, n.

[acronym from the 1970 U.S. census forms via Usenet: Member Of The Opposite Sex] A potential or (less often) actual sex partner. See MOTAS, MOTSS, SO. Less common than MOTSS or MOTAS, which has largely displaced it.

MOTSS: /mots/, /M·O·T·S·S/, n.

[from the 1970 U.S. census forms via Usenet] Member Of The Same Sex, esp. one considered as a possible sexual partner. The gay-issues newsgroup on Usenet is called soc.motss. See MOTOS and MOTAS, which derive from it. See also SO.

mouse ahead: //, vi.

Point-and-click analog of “type ahead”. To manipulate a computer’s pointing device (almost always a mouse in this usage, but not necessarily) and its selection or command buttons before a computer program is ready to accept such input, in anticipation of the program accepting the input. Handling this properly is rare, but it can help make a WIMP environment much more usable, assuming the users are familiar with the behavior of the user interface.

mouse belt: //, n.

See rat belt.

mouse droppings: //, n.

[MS-DOS] Pixels (usually single) that are not properly restored when the mouse pointer moves away from a particular location on the screen, producing the appearance that the mouse pointer has left droppings behind. The major causes for this problem are programs that write to the screen memory corresponding to the mouse pointer’s current location without hiding the mouse pointer first, and mouse drivers that do not quite support the graphics mode in use.

mouse elbow: //, n.

A tennis-elbow-like fatigue syndrome resulting from excessive use of a WIMP environment. Similarly, “mouse shoulder”; GLS reports that he used to get this a lot before he taught himself to be ambimoustrous.

mouse pusher: //, n.

[common] A person that prefers a mouse over a keyboard; originally used for Macintosh fans. The derogatory implication is that the person has nothing but the most superficial knowledge of the software he/she is employing, and is incapable of using or appreciating the full glory of the command line.

mouso: /mow´soh/, n.

[by analogy with “typo”] An error in mouse usage resulting in an inappropriate selection or graphic garbage on the screen. Compare thinko, braino.

MS-DOS: /M·S·dos/, n.

[MicroSoft Disk Operating System] A clone of CP/M for the 8088 crufted together in 6 weeks by hacker Tim Paterson at Seattle Computer Products, who called the original QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System) and is said to have regretted it ever since. Microsoft licensed QDOS in order to have something to demo for IBM on time, and the rest is history. Numerous features, including vaguely Unix-like but rather broken support for subdirectories, I/O redirection, and pipelines, were hacked into Microsoft’s 2.0 and subsequent versions; as a result, there are two or more incompatible versions of many system calls, and MS-DOS programmers can never agree on basic things like what character to use as an option switch or whether to be case-sensitive. The resulting appalling mess is now the highest-unit-volume OS in history. Often known simply as DOS, which annoys people familiar with other similarly abbreviated operating systems (the name goes back to the mid-1960s, when it was attached to IBM’s first disk operating system for the 360). The name further annoys those who know what the term operating system does (or ought to) connote; DOS is more properly a set of relatively simple interrupt services. Some people like to pronounce DOS like “dose”, as in “I don’t work on dose, man!”, or to compare it to a dose of brain-damaging drugs (a slogan button in wide circulation among hackers exhorts: “MS-DOS: Just say No!”). See mess-dos.

mu: /moo/, n.

The correct answer to the classic trick question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”. Assuming that you have no wife or you have never beaten your wife, the answer “yes” is wrong because it implies that you used to beat your wife and then stopped, but “no” is worse because it suggests that you have one and are still beating her. According to various Discordians and Douglas Hofstadter the correct answer is usually “mu”, a Japanese word alleged to mean “Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions”. Hackers tend to be sensitive to logical inadequacies in language, and many have adopted this suggestion with enthusiasm. The word “mu” is actually from Chinese, meaning “nothing”; it is used in mainstream Japanese in that sense. In Chinese it can also mean “have not” (as in “I have not done it”), or “lack of”, which may or may not be a definite, complete 'nothing'). Native speakers of Japanese do not recognize the Discordian question-denying use, which almost certainly derives from overgeneralization of the answer in the following well-known Rinzai Zen koan:

A monk asked Joshu, “Does a dog have the Buddha nature?” Joshu retorted, “Mu!”

See also has the X nature, Some AI Koans, and Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

MUD: /muhd/, n.

[acronym, Multi-User Dungeon; alt.: Multi-User Dimension]

1. A class of virtual reality experiments accessible via the Internet. These are real-time chat forums with structure; they have multiple “locations” like an adventure game, and may include combat, traps, puzzles, magic, a simple economic system, and the capability for characters to build more structure onto the database that represents the existing world.

2. vi. To play a MUD. The acronym MUD is often lowercased and/or verbed; thus, one may speak of “going mudding”, etc.

Historically, MUDs (and their more recent progeny with names of MU- form) derive from a hack by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw on the University of Essex’s DEC-10 in the early 1980s; descendants of that game still exist today and are sometimes generically called BartleMUDs. There is a widespread myth (repeated, unfortunately, by earlier versions of this lexicon) that the name MUD was trademarked to the commercial MUD run by Bartle on British Telecom (the motto: “You haven’t lived 'til you’ve died on MUD!”); however, this is false - Richard Bartle explicitly placed “MUD” in the public domain in 1985. BT was upset at this, as they had already printed trademark claims on some maps and posters, which were released and created the myth.

Students on the European academic networks quickly improved on the MUD concept, spawning several new MUDs (VAXMUD, AberMUD, LPMUD). Many of these had associated bulletin-board systems for social interaction. Because these had an image as “research” they often survived administrative hostility to BBSs in general. This, together with the fact that Usenet feeds were often spotty and difficult to get in the U.K., made the MUDs major foci of hackish social interaction there.

AberMUD and other variants crossed the Atlantic around 1988 and quickly gained popularity in the U.S.; they became nuclei for large hacker communities with only loose ties to traditional hackerdom (some observers see parallels with the growth of Usenet in the early 1980s). The second wave of MUDs (TinyMUD and variants) tended to emphasize social interaction, puzzles, and cooperative world-building as opposed to combat and competition (in writing, these social MUDs are sometimes referred to as “MU*”, with “MUD” implicitly reserved for the more game-oriented ones). By 1991, over 50% of MUD sites were of a third major variety, LPMUD, which synthesizes the combat/puzzle aspects of AberMUD and older systems with the extensibility of TinyMud. In 1996 the cutting edge of the technology is Pavel Curtis’s MOO, even more extensible using a built-in object-oriented language. The trend toward greater programmability and flexibility will doubtless continue.

The state of the art in MUD design is still moving very rapidly, with new simulation designs appearing (seemingly) every month. Around 1991 there was an unsuccessful movement to deprecate the term MUD itself, as newer designs exhibit an exploding variety of names corresponding to the different simulation styles being explored. It survived. See also bonk/oif, link-dead, mudhead, talk mode.

muddie: //, n.

Syn. mudhead. More common in Great Britain, possibly because system administrators there like to mutter “bloody muddies” when annoyed at the species.

mudhead: //, n.

Commonly used to refer to a MUD player who eats, sleeps, and breathes MUD. Mudheads have been known to fail their degrees, drop out, etc., with the consolation, however, that they made wizard level. When encountered in person, on a MUD, or in a chat system, all a mudhead will talk about is three topics: the tactic, character, or wizard that is supposedly always unfairly stopping him/her from becoming a wizard or beating a favorite MUD; why the specific game he/she has experience with is so much better than any other; and the MUD he or she is writing or going to write because his/her design ideas are so much better than in any existing MUD. See also wannabee.

To the anthropologically literate, this term may recall the Zuni/Hopi legend of the mudheads or koyemshi, mythical half-formed children of an unnatural union. Figures representing them act as clowns in Zuni sacred ceremonies. Others may recall the “High School Madness” sequence from the Firesign Theatre album Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, in which there is a character named “Mudhead”.

muggle: //, n.

[from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, 1998] A non-wizard. Not as disparaging as luser; implies vague pity rather than contempt. In the universe of Rowling’s enormously (and deservedly) popular children’s series, muggles and wizards inhabit the same modern world, but each group is ignorant of the commonplaces of the others’ existence – most muggles are unaware that wizards exist, and wizards (used to magical ways of doing everything) are perplexed and fascinated by muggle artifacts.

In retrospect it seems completely inevitable that hackers would adopt this metaphor, and in hacker usage it readily forms compounds such as “muggle-friendly”. Compare mundane, newbie.

Multics: /muhl´tiks/, n.

[from “MULTiplexed Information and Computing Service”] An early timesharing operating system co-designed by a consortium including MIT, GE, and Bell Laboratories as a successor to CTSS. The design was first presented in 1965, planned for operation in 1967, first operational in 1969, and took several more years to achieve respectable performance and stability.

Multics was very innovative for its time – among other things, it provided a hierarchical file system with access control on individual files and introduced the idea of treating all devices uniformly as special files. It was also the first OS to run on a symmetric multiprocessor, and the only general-purpose system to be awarded a B2 security rating by the NSA (see Orange Book).

Bell Labs left the development effort in 1969 after judging that second-system effect had bloated Multics to the point of practical unusability. Honeywell commercialized Multics in 1972 after buying out GE’s computer group, but it was never very successful: at its peak in the 1980s, there were between 75 and 100 Multics sites, each a multi-million dollar mainframe.

One of the former Multics developers from Bell Labs was Ken Thompson, and Unix deliberately carried through and extended many of Multics' design ideas; indeed, Thompson described the very name “Unix” as “a weak pun on Multics”. For this and other reasons, aspects of the Multics design remain a topic of occasional debate among hackers. See also brain-damaged and GCOS.

MIT ended its development association with Multics in 1977. Honeywell sold its computer business to Bull in the mid 80s, and development on Multics was stopped in 1988. Four Multics sites were known to be still in use as late as 1998, but the last one (a Canadian military site) was decommissioned in November 2000. There is a Multics page at http://www.stratus.com/pub/vos/multics/tvv/multics.html.

There is a much more extensive source of information on Multics, the Multicians website founded in 1994 and developed and maintained since by many former developers, operators, and technical writers among many others.

multitask: //, n.

Often used of humans in the same meaning it has for computers, to describe a person doing several things at once (but see thrash). The term “multiplex”, from communications technology (meaning to handle more than one channel at the same time), is used similarly.

mumblage: /muhm´bl@j/, n.

The topic of one’s mumbling (see mumble). “All that mumblage” is used like “all that stuff” when it is not quite clear how the subject of discussion works, or like “all that crap” when “mumble” is being used as an implicit replacement for pejoratives.

mumble: //, interj.

1. Said when the correct response is too complicated to enunciate, or the speaker has not thought it out. Often prefaces a longer answer, or indicates a general reluctance to get into a long discussion. “Don’t you think that we could improve LISP performance by using a hybrid reference-count transaction garbage collector, if the cache is big enough and there are some extra cache bits for the microcode to use?” “Well, mumble... I’ll have to think about it.”

2. [MIT] Expression of not-quite-articulated agreement, often used as an informal vote of consensus in a meeting: “So, shall we dike out the COBOL emulation?” “Mumble!”

3. Sometimes used as an expression of disagreement (distinguished from sense 2 by tone of voice and other cues). “I think we should buy a VAX.” “Mumble!” Common variant: “mumble frotz” (see frotz; interestingly, one does not say “mumble frobnitz” even though “frotz” is short for “frobnitz”).

4. Yet another metasyntactic variable, like foo.

5. When used as a question (“Mumble?”) means “I didn’t understand you”.

6. Sometimes used in “public” contexts on-line as a placefiller for things one is barred from giving details about. For example, a poster with pre-released hardware in his machine might say “Yup, my machine now has an extra 16M of memory, thanks to the card I’m testing for Mumbleco.”

7. A conversational wild card used to designate something one doesn’t want to bother spelling out, but which can be glarked from context. Compare blurgle.

8. [XEROX PARC] A colloquialism used to suggest that further discussion would be fruitless.

munch: //, vt.

[often confused with mung, q.v.] To transform information in a serial fashion, often requiring large amounts of computation. To trace down a data structure. Related to crunch and nearly synonymous with grovel, but connotes less pain.

munching squares: //, n.

A display hack dating back to the PDP-1 (ca. 1962, reportedly discovered by Jackson Wright), which employs a trivial computation (repeatedly plotting the graph Y = X XOR T for successive values of T – see HAKMEM items 146-148) to produce an impressive display of moving and growing squares that devour the screen. The initial value of T is treated as a parameter, which, when well-chosen, can produce amazing effects. Some of these, later (re)discovered on the LISP machine, have been christened “munching triangles” (try AND for XOR and toggling points instead of plotting them), “munching w’s”, and “munching mazes”. More generally, suppose a graphics program produces an impressive and ever-changing display of some basic form, foo, on a display terminal, and does it using a relatively simple program; then the program (or the resulting display) is likely to be referred to as “munching foos”. [This is a good example of the use of the word foo as a metasyntactic variable.]

munching: //, n.

Exploration of security holes of someone else’s computer for thrills, notoriety, or to annoy the system manager. Compare cracker. See also hacked off.

munchkin: /muhnch´kin/, n.

[from the squeaky-voiced little people in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz] A teenage-or-younger micro enthusiast hacking BASIC or something else equally constricted. A term of mild derision – munchkins are annoying but some grow up to be hackers after passing through a larval stage. The term urchin is also used. See also bitty box.

mundane: //, n.

[from SF fandom]

1. A person who is not in science fiction fandom.

2. A person who is not in the computer industry. In this sense, most often an adjectival modifier as in “in my mundane life...” See also Real World, muggle.

mung: /muhng/, vt.

[in 1960 at MIT, “Mash Until No Good”; sometime after that the derivation from the recursive acronym “Mung Until No Good” became standard; but see munge]

1. To make changes to a file, esp. large-scale and irrevocable changes. See BLT.

2. To destroy, usually accidentally, occasionally maliciously. The system only mungs things maliciously; this is a consequence of scribble, mangle, trash, Usenet suggest that the pronunciation /muhnj/ is now usual in speech, but the spelling “mung” is still common in program comments (compare the widespread confusion over the proper spelling of spam epidemics of the 1990s, mung is now commonly used to describe the act of modifying an email address in a sig block in a way that human beings can readily reverse but that will fool an address harvester. Example: johnNOSPAMsmith@isp.net.

3. The kind of beans the sprouts of which are used in Chinese food. (That’s their real name! Mung beans! Really!)

Like many early hacker terms, this one seems to have originated at TMRC; it was already in use there in 1958. Peter Samson (compiler of the original TMRC lexicon) thinks it may originally have been onomatopoeic for the sound of a relay spring (contact) being twanged. However, it is known that during the World Wars, “mung” was U.S.: army slang for the ersatz creamed chipped beef better known as “SOS”, and it seems quite likely that the word in fact goes back to Scots-dialect munge.

Charles Mackay’s 1874 book Lost Beauties of the English Language defined “mung” as follows: “Preterite of ming, to ming or mingle; when the substantive meaning of mingled food of bread, potatoes, etc. thrown to poultry. In America, ‘mung news’ is a common expression applied to false news, but probably having its derivation from mingled (or mung) news, in which the true and the false are so mixed up together that it is impossible to distinguish one from another.”

munge: /muhnj/, vt.

1. [derogatory] To imperfectly transform information.

2. A comprehensive rewrite of a routine, data structure or the whole program.

3. To modify data in some way the speaker doesn’t need to go into right now or cannot describe succinctly (compare mumble).

4. To add spamblock to an email address.

This term is often confused with mung, which probably was derived from it. However, it also appears the word “munge” was in common use in Scotland in the 1940s, and in Yorkshire in the 1950s, as a verb, meaning to munch up into a masticated mess, and as a noun, meaning the result of munging something up (the parallel with the kludge pair is amusing). The OED reports “munge” as an archaic verb meaning “to wipe (a person’s nose)”.

Murphy’s Law: //, prov.

The correct, original Murphy’s Law reads: “If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it.” This is a principle of defensive design, cited here because it is usually given in mutant forms less descriptive of the challenges of design for lusers. For example, you don’t make a two-pin plug symmetrical and then label it “THIS WAY UP”; if it matters which way it is plugged in, then you make the design asymmetrical (see also the anecdote under magic smoke).

Edward A. Murphy, Jr. was one of McDonnell-Douglas’s test engineers on the rocket-sled experiments that were done by the U.S. Air Force in 1949 to test human acceleration tolerances (USAF project MX981). One experiment involved a set of 16 accelerometers mounted to different parts of the subject’s body. There were two ways each sensor could be glued to its mount, and somebody methodically installed all 16 in a replacement set the wrong way around. Murphy then made the original form of his pronouncement, which the test subject (Major John Paul Stapp) mis-quoted (apparently in the more general form “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong)” at a news conference a few days later.

Within months “Murphy’s Law” had spread to various technical cultures connected to aerospace engineering. Before too many years had gone by variants had passed into the popular imagination, changing as they went. Most of these are variants on “Anything that can go wrong, will”; this is more correctly referred to as Finagle’s Law. The memetic drift apparent in these mutants clearly demonstrates Murphy’s Law acting on itself!

music: //, n.

A common extracurricular interest of hackers (compare science-fiction fandom, filk). Hackish folklore has long claimed that musical and programming abilities are closely related, and there has been at least one large-scale statistical study that supports this. Hackers, as a rule, like music and often develop musical appreciation in unusual and interesting directions. Folk music is very big in hacker circles; so is electronic music, and the sort of elaborate instrumental jazz/rock that used to be called “progressive” and isn’t recorded much any more. The hacker’s musical range tends to be wide; many can listen with equal appreciation to (say) Talking Heads, Yes, Gentle Giant, Pat Metheny, Scott Joplin, Tangerine Dream, Dream Theater, King Sunny Ade, The Pretenders, Screaming Trees, or the Brandenburg Concerti. It is also apparently true that hackerdom includes a much higher concentration of talented amateur musicians than one would expect from a similar-sized control group of mundane types.

mutter: //, vt.

To quietly enter a command not meant for the ears, eyes, or fingers of ordinary mortals. Often used in “mutter an incantation”. See also wizard.

Previous | Next | Found Subjects | Moonspeaker