Monday, July 16, 2007

Why are taxi cabs called hacks?

Who's asking: Larry Willis, St. Louis, MO

Larry wondered whether it was only in New York that cabdrivers were called hacks, but this term is pretty common, and comes from British English. It's short for "hackney cab," which referred to a carriage for hire drawn by a hackney, or an ordinary horse. The term dates back to middle English.

The word "hackney" evolved to mean "horse for hire," and then to mean "drudge" or even "prostitute" -- leading to the use of "hack" to mean "writer for hire," and the word "hackneyed," which means cliche-ridden. The use of "hacker" to refer to a computer user dates back to the mid-1970s.

Home again today, after a good time in New York. Joe Finder won the Thriller Award for Best Novel for his book Killer Instinct, hurrah! And I got to meet some people I'd never seen before but already think of as friends, including my client Daniel Palmer and the radiant Laura Benedict, whose debut novel Isabella Moon comes out this fall.

Thanks to Matt for the hospitality and especially to Karen Olson and her family, for a great summer afternoon in New Haven.


steve said...

I kinda figured that the term computer hacker came from the concept of "hacking" your way into or through something. "I hacked my way through the forest" or "The soldiers hacked their way through the enemy lines."

AnswerGirl said...

I'm sure that's part of it, too -- a nice convergence of meanings.

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