Word of The Day for Wednesday, March 9, 2011


kludge (kluhj)  n
alt kluge (klooj)

1. a workaround, a quick-and-dirty solution, a clumsy or inelegant, yet effective, solution to a problem, typically using parts that are cobbled together
2. a system, especially a computer system, that is constituted of poorly matched elements or of elements originally intended for other applications; a clever programming trick intended to solve a particular nasty case in an expedient, if not clear, manner
3. something that works for the wrong reason

See below

Sentence Examples:
• It’s a kludge, but it works well. Since this system is going to be running Xen, it will need a bridge anyway.

• So don't think of IPS as magic security pixie dust. Think of it as a kludge to cover for your inadequate patching procedures.

• What follows is a story of hope. That even when things seem their bleakest a kludge can come along and get things limping along.

Why This Word:

The present word has alternate spellings (kludge and kluge) and pronunciations (rhyming with fudge and stooge respectively), and several proposed etymologies.

The Oxford English Dictionary kludge entry cites one source for this word's earliest recorded usage, definition, and etymology: Jackson W. Granholm's 1962 "How to Design a Kludge" article, which appeared in the American computer magazine Datamation. 
    The word 'kludge' is...derived from the same root as the German Kluge..., originally meaning 'smart' or 'witty'.... 'Kludge' eventually came to mean 'not so smart' or 'pretty ridiculous'.

The German surname Kluge derives from klug "prudent; wise". Although the OED2 notes Granholm was "jocular", it accepts his ironic etymology from a fictional "Fink and Wiggles" for Funk & Wagnalls lexicographer.

    A phone call to Phineas Burling can be revealing. Phineas Burling is the Chief calligrapher with the Fink and Wiggles Publishing Company, Inc. Fink and Wiggles are, of course, the well known publishers of the NEW MULTILINGUAL DICTIONARY. According to Burling, the word "kludge" first appeared in the English language in the early fifteen-hundreds. It was imported into the geographic region of the lowlands between King's Lynn (then Bishop's Lynn) and the Isle of Ely by Dutch settlers arriving there to reclaim tidelands of the Wash as rutabaga fields. …
    The word "kludge" is, according to Burling, derived from the same root as the German "klug" (Dutch kloog, Swedish Klag, Danish Klog, Gothic Klaugen, Lettish Kladnis and Sanskrit Veklaunn), originally meaning "smart" or "witty". In the typical machinations of language in evolutionary growth, the word "Kludge" eventually came to mean "not so smart" or "pretty ridiculous". Today the leading definition given by the NEW MULTILINGUAL is, "An ill-assorted collection of poorly-matching parts, forming a distressing whole."
    It is in this latter sense that "Kludge" is used by computer hardware men. Today "kludge" forms one of the most beloved words in design terminology, and it stands ready for handy application to the work of anyone who gins up 110-volt circuitry to plug into the 220 VAC source. The building of a Kludge, however, is not work for amateurs. There is a certain, indefinable, masochistic finesse that must go into true Kludge building. The professional can spot it instantly. The amateur may readily presume that "that's the way computers are".
This OED2 entry also includes the verbal kludge "to improvise with a kludge or kludges" and kludgemanship "skill in designing or applying kludges".

The Jargon File (a.k.a. The New Hacker's Dictionary), which is a glossary of internet slang maintained by Eric S. Raymond, differentiates kludge from kluge and cites usage examples predating 1962.

This Jargon File entry notes kludge apparently derives via British military slang from Scots kludge or kludgie meaning "a common toilet", and became confused with U.S. kluge during or after World War II.

This entry notes kluge, which is now often spelled kludge, "was the original spelling, reported around computers as far back as the mid-1950s and, at that time, used exclusively of hardware kluges". The Jargon File gives possible etymologies from naval slang (cf. jury rig) or printing equipment.

First, kluge "was common Navy slang in the WWII era for any piece of electronics that worked well on shore but consistently failed at sea". A 1947 article in the New York Folklore Quarterly recorded the classic shaggy dog story "'Murgatroyd the Kluge Maker' then current in the Armed Forces, in which a 'kluge' was a complex and puzzling artifact with a trivial function." When Murgatroyd enlists into the Navy, he gives "kluge maker" as his occupation. Because none of the officers knows what a kluge is, Murgatroyd ascends through the ranks, eventually becoming "kluge maker, first class". When an admiral demands that Murgatroyd build him a kluge, he constructs a strange object with springs in all directions. He then drops it over the side of the ship into the ocean, where it goes "kkluuge".

Second, the "Kluge paper feeder" was an automatic paper feeder for printing presses, which was first manufactured by Brandtjen and Kluge in 1919. It supposedly had a Rube Goldberg machine reputation, and was "temperamental, subject to frequent breakdowns, and devilishly difficult to repair — but oh, so clever!"

The Jargon File further includes kluge around "to avoid a bug or difficult condition by inserting a kluge", kluge up "to lash together a quick hack to perform a task". After Granholm's 1962 "How to Design a Kludge" article popularized the kluge variant kludge, both were interchangeably used and confused. The Jargon File concludes:

    The result of this history is a tangle. Many younger U.S. hackers pronounce the word as /klooj/ but spell it, incorrectly for its meaning and pronunciation, as 'kludge'. … British hackers mostly learned /kluhj/ orally, use it in a restricted negative sense and are at least consistent. European hackers have mostly learned the word from written American sources and tend to pronounce it /kluhj/ but use the wider American meaning! Some observers consider this mess appropriate in view of the word's meaning.

Other suggested folk etymologies or backronyms for kludge or kluge is from klumsy, lame, ugly, dumb, but good enough, or klutzy, lashup, under, going, engineering.
Sources: Wikipedia

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