What is the origin of the word dead-tree? I know that it basically refers to the print edition of a book that is also available in electronic format but would like to understand of the etymology the word dead-tree. In particular why the combination of the terms dead and tree to refer to books?
Dead tree (noun, adjective) refers to the fact that paper copies of a document require trees to be killed.
The term is somewhat jocular and slightly negative, reminding of the sometimes unnecessity of the printed page in the computing world.
The term originates from the computing world. The first entry in the OED is from the 1991 New Hacker's Dictionary:
Hackers seldom read documentation... A common comment on this is 'You can't grep dead trees'.
Grep is a tool for searching for text in an electronic document, and this shows having a printed document is worse as it's harder and slower to find what you want. The OED compares it to a similar computing term for paper, treeware.
Wiktionary has an antedating:
1986 Apr 15: Barry Shein, Re: job control, net.unix-wizards, 1
My question is basically do you need better on-line programs to search the docs ... , or actually different dead-tree style.
And I found a 1985 antedating in net.lang.c from Usenet, in the signature of Thomas Johnsson in a 23 July 1985 post to net.lang.c:
Mail on dead trees: Dept. of CS, Chalmers University of Technology,
S-412 96 Goteborg, Sweden