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I always liked to use the word "crackers" to refer to people who overcome computer software or security restrictions, as opposed to "hackers," which (supposedly) originally meant people skilled at computing.

A while ago, I used the word in my conversation with a speaker of AmE, who did not know of that use of the word and thought I was using a racial slur. This could have been a problem since I am not Caucasian myself.

While I could use other words like "script kiddies" to roughly mean what I meant by "crackers," this left me with the following question: is the use of the word "cracker" as a racial slur so common that it cannot be used to refer to certain hackers without causing misunderstanding? My assumption is that it may depend on where you are: if you are in the Deep South, probably the word is more commonly used pejoratively than elsewhere. But I don't know that for sure.

marked as duplicate by tchrist Mar 24 at 16:09

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  • "Cracker" has many connotations. I think I've maybe heard it used with racial overtones maybe twice in my nearly 70 years of life. Using it to refer to a "black hat hacker", however, is not idiomatic. – Hot Licks Mar 22 at 12:05
  • I wouldn't worry about the opinion of just one person. In my experience, the word "crackers" usually means "nuts" or similar. – BillJ Mar 22 at 12:27
  • I just encountered "cracker" as a pejorative in a comment thread on a news story. The referents were two neck-tattooed white teenagers who flipped a car while fleeing from police. – shoover Mar 22 at 21:05
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There's a lot going on here.

  • 'cracker' for someone who breaks into software (which is not too distant from 'hacker') is probably metaphorical for 'safe cracker'. In the context of software, saying the word is not that common and would probably evoke the feeling that you really meant to say 'hacker'.
  • As an epithet for 'poor white people in the South of the US', it is pretty weak, as is most epithets for such people. Most of the pain of an epithet comes from the power relationship; it hurts more from those in a strength position. The taboo nature of epithets terms gets most of its strength from how hurtful it is perceived, and as currently the power relationship is generally favorable towards whites, it doesn't get perceived as strong. Calling 'cracker' a racial slur is superficially correct: it is intended as a slur and it mentions race, but that is too literal a reading. It comes across as feeble. A white person who takes offense at it is being disingenuous.
  • That said, even if a correct assessment, you don't want to go throwing around any kind of epithet no matter how weak.
  • 'cracker' or 'crackers' in the context of eating 'flat dry bread snacks' would have no perceived connection and wouldn't even register as a pun.

'Hacker' though it has its own multiple overloaded senses, is probably the word you want to use anyway. One of the primary senses of 'hacking' is 'breaking into a system'. If you really really like the sound and connections of the word 'cracker', give it an adjective like system cracker' or 'ID cracker'.

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