Interesting. I can say this (as someone who grew up in the 80's). Despite what a dozen or so people originally called themselves the first time the **public** was introduced to the word hacker it was used to mean "to break into computers". So in terms of the **public** use of the word it was, in fact, negative from the get go. I'm not sure what a few dozen people used it as first should be the dictated usage for the public.
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