The Grammarphobia Blog

Hacking it

Q: Why do we use the same word, “hack,” for a cab driver, a forgettable writer, and a horse?

A: The word “hack,” meaning the driver of a hackney carriage, first appeared in print in the late 17th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

By the turn of the century, the word was also being used to mean a drudge or a person hired to perform whatever needed doing; for example, a literary “hack” would be a writer who hired himself out as a mere scribbler.

During the 18th century, “hack” came to mean a hackney carriage itself, a carriage horse, or any horse, especially an ill-bred one, used for ordinary riding. Nowadays, it also refers to a taxicab and someone who drives one.

I’ll save the word “hacker” for another time. (I’d better update my antivirus program first!)

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