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Can't hack it

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 15, 2008 at 00:53

In Reply to: Can't hack it posted by Larryh on May 14, 2008 at 08:33:

: Does anyone know the origin of "can't hack it"? I think it came from pine-sap gathering for making turpentine in the early 1900's in the Southern U.S., but I'm not sure.

The Oxford English Dictionary, after giving the principle uses of "hack", such as chop or chop at, mutilate with jagged strokes, give us this:

"d. To cope with, manage, accomplish; to tolerate, accept; to comprehend; freq. to hack it. slang (orig. U.S.).
1955 Antioch Rev. XV. 379, I can't hack something like stealing. . . .1972 Newsweek 7 Aug. 18/2, I had proved to the world during my four years in the Senate..that I can hack it."

Hacking trees, or making gashes in thme for the purpose of gathering sap, is an old use and conforms to the earliest meanings of the word. The OED doesn't explain how the meaning above is related to any of the other meanings given to the word.