While reading about Algeria, I discovered a great piece of history. See, the Young Algerians movement, in the early twentieth century, was (as I understand it—research ongoing!) a collection of young Algerian activists pushing for full citizenship rights for Algerians. Algeria had, at this point, been colonized by France, and native Algerians were subjected to crippling second class citizenship restrictions, oppressive and unrepresentative court systems, and systematic wealth extraction. The Young Algerians published newspapers to support their position and coordinate their activities, much as modern fans create Twitter accounts to support and coordinate our analysis of the level of emo-ness of certain Star Wars characters. (May the Fourth Be With You—knew I’d sneak it into the blog post somehow.) And one of these papers, first published in 1911, was called El Hack.
Now, El Hack was a contemporary romanization of a word that would probably be rendered Al Haqq today, meaning “The Truth,” which is a great name for a newspaper. And I’ll be the first person to admit—I’m not an etymologist. But I really, really hope that when I look into the matter, I’ll find that the colloquial English designation of journalists as “hacks” dates back to 1911.
The English “hack” means, on its face, someone who produces dull, unoriginal work, especially journalism—but for me it’s accumulated this weird noir nobility. A hack is an unshaven knight of the press, never respectable, never upstanding, often angry, always on time, but only just. A hack is desperate, a seat-of-the-pants striver—sprinting always one step ahead of the forces of power that try to quash stories, or collar the press, writing words too quickly to edit them because what matters is making that all-important press deadline. Hacks aren’t slick, they don’t know how to behave, hacks are rarely to be trusted. But hacks work. And hacks are necessary.
So it tickles me—lacking any proof whatsoever—to imagine some educated, well-traveled English speaking Young Algerian making an at-least bilingual pun here: El Hack, “The Hack,” the newspaper of eager ink-stained journalistic strivers, looked down upon by ‘polite’ ‘society,’ who will fight against corruption and drag into the light, at the very last, Al Haqq, “The Truth.”
Personal note: Hello, all! I’ve been away from the blog for a while—books and Bookburners and various other work snuck up on me, and I lacked enough energy to do even simple blog posting. I’m trying to get back on schedule, but in order to do so, I’m starting small. There will, no doubt, be future ten page monstrosity posts—but give me time.