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Can anybody trace the origins of 'Easter egg' for this meaning?

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General reference, I think. –  Andrew Leach Apr 29 '13 at 10:19
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I understand it was popularised sometime in the 90s when engineers at Microsoft decided to have some fun with the products they were building. The small features or jokes were embedded into the code but were not obvious or documented and had to be discovered by the user. Hence the name,Easter Egg. –  moonstar2001 Apr 29 '13 at 10:44
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I dunno. To me, "first use" does not equal "begins to mean": for the latter, it needs to be immediately understood in context, without further explanation needed. I.e. the question is not "when was 'Easter egg' first used in a software context", but "when did 'Easter egg' take on a second meaning". The OED answers the former question, but not really the latter one. –  Marthaª Apr 29 '13 at 15:09
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I've voted to re-open because this is like any number of etymology questions still open. Further, my answer has extra research that found an antedating that is not (yet) found in general reference sources. –  Hugo Apr 29 '13 at 18:44
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This is just a guess, but could it come from the practice of holding Easter Egg hunts? –  user867 Apr 30 '13 at 3:26
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1 Answer

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The OED has this sense of Easter egg from 1987:

1987 Re: Does Set Startup work Anymore? in comp.sys.mac (Usenet newsgroup) 13 Nov., The Option-Command ‘About MultiFinder’ easter egg was a good laugh.

This and other early uses were hidden features in software. By 2009, it was being used for hidden clues in television shows:

2009 Wall St. Jrnl. 18 Sept. w7/5 Shows like ‘Damages’, ‘Lost’ and ‘24’ drop clues, or ‘Easter eggs’, as TV writers call them, into episodes that flash on screen for mere seconds.


I found an earlier example of the hidden software feature in Usenet, also in a Mac group.

25th April 1986, Re: a few more option-keys tips in net.micro.mac:

So many of these neat messages seem to come by, but I can't tack them all up (very neatly) near the Mac. So here's a request to all you hardcore MacFreaks out there (and I know you're out there!) -

Why not have a periodically updated list of these option, command, and other combination Easter egg type-of-things?

If you already have one, please, please post it to the net. If you only have a few, please mail them to me at the address below, and when it starts to get really huge, I post it back up again.


Wikipedia links to unverified anecdotal evidence of the term being used at Atari sometime after 1979. According to an interview with Warren Robinett, programmer of "Adventure" for the Atari 2600 which contained an early Easter egg:

What actually happened was that by the time some kid or kids had discovered the secret room and Atari found out, I didn't work there any more. So they couldn't really punish me, and the manager of game software at that time decided little hidden surprises in games, which he called "Easter Eggs" were kind of cool. Also, it would have cost $10,000 to make a new mask for the ROM in the cartridge. So what happened was that Atari left the secret room in the game.

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I've sent the antedating to the OED. –  Hugo Apr 29 '13 at 13:10
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Seems like Adventure was the first use to me. Nice find! –  Charles Apr 29 '13 at 14:54
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I personally remember reading the term in relation to home computer game software in the early-mid 80's, so I highly suspect that Atari reference is legit. Still, he may have gotten it from somewhere else too. –  T.E.D. Apr 29 '13 at 21:09
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