With certain electronic devices if you make a mistake you can brick (used as a verb) the device, so that it ends up in a defunct state. So the device ends up being bricked.

What is the correct term to recover from this bricked state? On the web one can find the terms debrick and unbrick, but which one is correct?

  • 1
    Can you explain what you mean by "technically correct"?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 23:33

2 Answers 2


According to the definitions laid out here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_prefixes:

prefix  description                        example
de-     reverse action, get rid of         deemphasise
un-     reverse action, ... release from   undo, untie

For this reason, both are semantically valid, since both prefixes state that the verb is to be reversed, but 'un-' makes more sense, because an "unbricked" object has been "released" from its state of being "bricked", i.e. broken - which makes a bit more sense than "getting rid of the 'brickedness'" that de- would imply.

There's no canonical answer here, because the usage of "brick" as a verb meaning "to break" is very modern (and hence somewhat unstandardized) word - and unbrick and debrick are even less standardized (my spell checker recognizes neither of them), but we can always look at actual usage to see which form has "stuck".

A quick search on Google suggests that "debrick phone" has roughly 357 pages compared with 19000 or so pages for "unbrick phone".

This means that "debrick" is less commonly used than "unbrick" - but it also means that neither are commonly used words at all.

This means that although neither of the words are Standard English (and hence neither are words I would use to advertise my business, or write in formal letters and emails), "unbrick" is the "more correct" of the two words.

Wiktionary and glosbe also both have entries for "unbrick" and not for "debrick", both mentioning its slang use to mean "restore to working order, after previously being inoperable".

  1. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/unbrick
  2. http://glosbe.com/en/en/unbrick
  • 2
    Until very recently, almost all uses of un- on a verb were with verbs of fastening or enclosing, and it simply didn't get used with verbs not in that semantic area (a few prominent oddities like unsay apart). This has significantly changed in the last few years, with user interfaces giving far more reversible operations than in the real world. So to me, unbrick has a connotation of releasing the item from a trapped state.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 23:39
  • 2
    It would also fit with "undelete", "unerase' and undo generally.
    – mgb
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 1:38

A Google Ngram search on [debrick, unbrick] turns up zero instances of debrick, meaning that debrick doesn't turn up in the literature between 1960 and 2000 at all.

Searching COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) doesn't turn up either word (although Debrick is apparently someone's name), which means that neither is used in standard English.

So, "according to English language rules," neither is favored.

However, as the previous answer notes, unbrick is favored according to usage. From Wordnik:

unbrick: v. transitive, slang, computing To repair a device that was bricked (rendered inoperative).

  • Thanks for taking the time to answer. Between 1960 and 2000 wouldn't make much sense since most devices running firmware the way they do now (cell phones etc) have only appeared in the last (barely) two decades. So it's understood that this isn't an old word. As for the "Standard English" - languages tend to be in a "state" of flux, their usage defines what's standard, even if the dictionaries haven't picked up certain words just yet :) Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 21:52
  • Your question asked "which one is correct according to English language rules?" My answer was, "neither." ;-)
    – Gnawme
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 21:56
  • okay, no problem then. Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 21:58
  • 2
    @Gnawme: Hang on - just because something isn't used in contemporary English, doesn't mean that it violates the syntax rules of English (see Chomsky et al). In terms of actual rules of English, I can't think of a good reason why debrick or unbrick must never be words meaning to "reverse the bricking of the object", although there are good English syntax reasons why (for example) counterbrick, contrabrick, antibrick or retrobrick would not be a valid word meaning to "reverse the bricking" of the object.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 0:09
  • @Matt I think I rather narrowly read "according to English language rules" as "used in standard English" or "found in a reputable dictionary." You are correct, neither debrick or unbrick violates English syntax as such.
    – Gnawme
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 0:21

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