Originally the term hacking or a hacker was used to describe someone who took a piece of hardware and made it function differently than its original design. There was no malicious intent at all. Early hackers included well known people like Steve Wozniak of Apple computers. He belonged to a group called the “Homebrew Computer Club” which consisted of individuals that loved to take hardware and tweak it and explore what other options it might be capable of. Sometimes it was nothing more than making the lights on a board move in different patterns. All very innocent and this was the original and true term of hacking.
Later, certain individuals wanted to find other ways to connect to computers that were not in the norm. They wanted to “hack” the science of networking. After all, hacking as we describe it today is nothing more than creating a network (albeit a one sided connection) that is not in the normal accepted practice.
Unfortunately it often bypasses authentication so it did allow the ability to connect without prior consent. This opened the door for much abuse and as humans we usually talk more about negatives than positives, so the term hacking is now considered something bad. Very similar to the word stink. Stink was originally used in old English meaning a smell or aroma. Due to most people only commenting on the negative, the word stink now refers to the worst smells. The word smell is quickly following the same path.
For me, I like the term hacker. I like the idea of exploring different ways of doing things that are outside of the normal practice. I am proud to be a hacker and I like that we are attempting to bring that term back to a positive connotation with the idea of Ethical Hacking.