The -P convention
A very conspicuous feature of jargon is the frequency with which
techspeak items such as names of program tools, command language
primitives, and even assembler opcodes are applied to contexts outside
of computing wherever hackers find amusing analogies to them. Thus
(to cite one of the best-known examples) Unix hackers often grep
for things rather than searching for them. Many of the lexicon
entries are generalizations of exactly this kind.
Hackers enjoy overgeneralization on the grammatical level as well.
Many hackers love to take various words and add the wrong endings to
them to make nouns and verbs, often by extending a standard rule to
nonuniform cases (or vice versa). For example, because
porous => porosity
generous => generosity
hackers happily generalize:
mysterious => mysteriosity
ferrous => ferrosity
obvious => obviosity
dubious => dubiosity
Another class of common construction uses the suffix `-itude' to
abstract a quality from just about any adjective or noun. This usage
arises especially in cases where mainstream English would perform the
same abstraction through `-iness' or `-ingness'. Thus:
win => winnitude (a common exclamation)
loss => lossitude
cruft => cruftitude
lame => lameitude
Some hackers cheerfully reverse this transformation; they argue, for
example, that the horizontal degree lines on a globe ought to be
called `lats' -- after all, they're measuring latitude!
Also, note that all nouns can be verbed. E.g.: "All nouns can be
verbed", "I'll mouse it up", "Hang on while I clipboard it over",
"I'm grepping the files". English as a whole is already heading in
this direction (towards pure-positional grammar like Chinese); hackers
are simply a bit ahead of the curve.
The suffix "-full" can also be applied in generalized and fanciful
ways, as in "As soon as you have more than one cachefull of data, the
system starts thrashing," or "As soon as I have more than one
headfull of ideas, I start writing it all down." A common use is
"screenfull", meaning the amount of text that will fit on one
screen, usually in text mode where you have no choice as to character
size. Another common form is "bufferfull".
However, hackers avoid the unimaginative verb-making techniques
characteristic of marketroids, bean-counters, and the Pentagon; a
hacker would never, for example, `productize', `prioritize', or
`securitize' things. Hackers have a strong aversion to bureaucratic
bafflegab and regard those who use it with contempt.
Similarly, all verbs can be nouned. This is only a slight
overgeneralization in modern English; in hackish, however, it
is good form to mark them in some standard nonstandard way. Thus:
win => winnitude, winnage
disgust => disgustitude
hack => hackification
Further, note the prevalence of certain kinds of nonstandard plural
forms. Some of these go back quite a ways; the TMRC Dictionary
includes an entry which implies that the plural of `mouse' is
meeces, and notes that the defined plural of `caboose' is
`cabeese'. This latter has apparently been standard (or at least a
standard joke) among railfans (railroad enthusiasts) for many
On a similarly Anglo-Saxon note, almost anything ending in `x' may
form plurals in `-xen' (see VAXen and boxen in the main
text). Even words ending in phonetic /k/ alone are sometimes
treated this way; e.g., `soxen' for a bunch of socks. Other funny
plurals are the Hebrew-style `frobbotzim' for the plural of `frobbozz'
(see frobnitz) and `Unices' and `Twenices' (rather than `Unixes'
and `Twenexes'; see Unix, TWENEX in main text). But note
that `Twenexen' was never used, and `Unixen' was not sighted in the
wild until the year 2000, thirty years after it might logically have
come into use; it has been suggested that this is because `-ix' and
`-ex' are Latin singular endings that attract a Latinate plural.
Finally, it has been suggested to general approval that the plural of
`mongoose' ought to be `polygoose'.
The pattern here, as with other hackish grammatical quirks, is
generalization of an inflectional rule that in English is either
an import or a fossil (such as the Hebrew plural ending `-im', or the
Anglo-Saxon plural suffix `-en') to cases where it isn't normally
considered to apply.
This is not `poor grammar', as hackers are generally quite well
aware of what they are doing when they distort the language. It is
grammatical creativity, a form of playfulness. It is done not to
impress but to amuse, and never at the expense of clarity.
--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.