July 29, 2005

You read it here first

With respect to the textual attestation of dike/dyke in the sense of "to remove by using diagonal cutting pliers", Mark Jason Dominus submitted this fragment of C from a mail library test program by Mark Crispin:

       if (pwd) { 
         strcpy (tmp,pwd->pw_gecos); 
                                   /* dyke out the office and phone poop */ 
         if (suffix = strchr (tmp,',')) suffix[0] = '\0'; 
         strcpy (personalname,tmp);/* make a permanent copy of it */ 

According MJD, the fragment dates from 1988, well after the 1971 date of the nominal attestation of dikes in Rate Training Manual NAVPERS 10085-B and the 1978 date of the to dike verbal entry in the TMRC dictionary. I presume that the verbal entry for dike in the jargon file also predates 1988, though I haven't been able to locate historical versions in order to verify this. (There's a dike entry in this "Original" version, which however is undated; the links to the 1981 and 1982 versions on Eric Raymond's site are non-functional.) This is the earliest citation that I've seen so far to the "dyke out" combination that's from a real communicative use, rather than a meta-description.

Anyhow, I think it would would be neat to have a historical citation in the OED that comes from a comment in an open-source (or otherwise published) computer program. I'm assuming that there are no source-code citations in that work now.

[Update: Joachim Ziebs asks

I, too, would like to see an open source quotation in the OED. However, I always believed the GNU Public Licence to be "infectious" to other software. Would this apply to books as well?

In this sort of case, the question doesn't arise, because the use of short quoted citations in dictionaries has always been covered by the "fair use" exception to copyright; this should apply to copyleft as well. At least so it seems to me.

And Ben Zimmer points out that there is a non-meta use of "dike out" in a story from the Jargon File:

This time we ran for Richard Greenblatt, a long-time MIT hacker, who was close at hand. He had never noticed the switch before, either. He inspected it, concluded it was useless, got some diagonal cutters and diked it out. We then revived the computer and it has run fine ever since.

If this was in the version of 1983 or earlier, it would trump the source code comment as the earliest published citation for that form. It's too bad that the historical links on elsewhere.org are broken -- I'd almost think that hackers didn't care about history, except that I know this to be false.]

[Update 8/22/2005: Back on the day this entry appeared, Rich Alderson emailed

There is a 1981 copy of the Jargon File available in the MIT TECO EMACS distribution, in the INFO: directory. This is available to all and sundry at Tim Shoppa's PDP software site:


From the header:

If you'd rather not mung the file yourself, send your definitions to DON @ SAIL, GLS @ MIT-AI, and/or MRC @ SAIL.

The last edit (of this line, anyway) was by Don Woods on 81-07-22.

And the full entry reads

DIKE [from "diagonal cutters"] v. To remove a module or disable it. "When in doubt, dike it out."

No stories about RG, unfortunately.

As the current maintainer of MIT TECO and EMACS, I can testify to the accuracy of the file dates on INFO:JARGON.TXT on the Tops-20 filesystem from which they were put on tape, to go to Tim's archives.

Unfortunately I let this email drift up off my current email queue before I acted on it.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 29, 2005 03:14 PM