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Old Bailey Hack

Posted by Lewis on July 25, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Hack writer posted by James Briggs on July 23, 2003

: : : : On the back of one of the books written by the late Canadian writer, Mordecai Richler, there is a sentence which goes: "an academic turned hack writer". What is a hack writer?

: : : From Merriam-Webster online 3b:

: : : Main Entry: 3hack
: : : Function: noun
: : : Etymology: short for hackney
: : : Date: circa 1721
: : : 1 a : a horse let out for common hire : a horse used in all kinds of work b : a horse worn out in service : JADE c : a light easy saddle horse; especially : a three-gaited saddle horse d : a ride on a horse
: : : 2 a : HACKNEY b : TAXICAB : CABDRIVER
: : : 3 a : a person who works solely for mercenary reasons : HIRELING b : a writer who works on order; also : a writer who aims solely for commercial success

: : : To call someone a "hack" writer means he or she just grinds out the work for money. Also, it implies that the writing is poor or just adequate.

: : Thanks for the clear explanation!

: The word 'Hackney', in the horse sense, is an anglisisation of a Dutch word. The first horses used for taxi cabs in London were of Dutch origin. I can't recall their Dutch name, but it soon turned into 'hackney'in English and the taxis themselves were called 'hackney carriages' - a term still used for a certain type of taxi in Britain. The horses then became 'hacks' - used for repetitive journies requiring little or no inititiative - just like the work some journalists are said to do!!

John Mortimore had Rumpole describe himself as "an Old Bailey hack" showing that it can be used to mean any worker who does not excel. "Hack" so far as writing is concerned is used both because of the "common or garden" nature of the work and also because "to hack" means to go quickly and also to damage without much concern.