This is from a very real recent conversation between my friend and me:
*Me*: ...so that's great! What do you do now?
*Tom*: Man, I'm a hacker at <company name> security services INC.
[His company is actually security company]
*Me*: Hey is there anyway to recover my network password?
I think I forgot it and I can't seem to get it to work!
*Tom*: No man, I don't deal with that stuff, I belong to a different department.
Maybe I can connect you with one of my friends from the actual security department?
*Me*: Wait, I thought you were a hacker?!
*Tom*: Yeah, a growth hacker ;)
Another example is wherein one of my friends told me he actually 'hacked' his car. I really thought he did something to his engine/ECU until when he confessed to me that he just found out a way of shifting gears that made the car accelerate (slightly) faster.
The problem with the term 'hacker' is that it's mis-used to the point where it affects it's actual meaning. Now imagine if Tom had said that in an interview or in an environment where bullshit terms and hipster buzz words are not common, like a traditional enterprise company for example.
My favorite HN commenter RyanZAG put it out beautifully in one of his comments from an old thread:
That's the point, [a growth hacker] is actively making it difficult for you to
understand him. By dropping in words with complex backgrounds, he hopes you
(you generally, not you in particular) do not have enough knowledge
in those domains to understand how those terms do/do not fit together.
This leaves you in a position of having to accept his point as there might be
truth in what he is saying - you aren't knowledgeable enough to tell the difference
between the correct and incorrect usage of the terms.
Generally, someone who understands the concepts will not use terms strung together like that unless forced.
There's too many of them, some contradictory.
"It is hard to write a simple definition of something as varied as hacking, but I think what these activities have in common is playfulness, cleverness, and exploration. Thus, hacking means exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness. Activities that display playful cleverness have "hack value"."
Even as a marketer, I don't know when what I'm doing is growth hacking and when it isn't. Is it when I'm building my own tools? Is it when I'm trying to exploit systems? Is it when I'm baking something into the product that will help it spread? Is it only when I'm doing something new and novel? The word isn't well-defined.
Now all we can do is debate semantics. Though careful wording is part of my job, bickering about what is or isn't some buzzword isn't what I enjoy. I want to grow products I believe in, so I find it best to call myself a "growth marketer," "marketer who can program," or a "full-stack marketer" depending on the context.
The reality is, it doesn't matter what a word meant when it was created if that's not what it means to the person with whom you're communicating.