Why was the word "dongle" chosen to represent this kind of hardware device?

I can imagine that it was related to the word "dangle"... since dongles tend to dangle - but that's just my hunch and not truly historic.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists the etymology of 'dongle' as "arbitrary"... so no help there.

The OED cites two sources of note:

  • 1981 New Scientist 1 Oct. 24/3: Many programs written for the Pet computer make use of a device known as a dongle. The dongle is an extra piece of memory that is plugged into the computer, without which the program refuses to run.
  • 1982 MicroComputer Printout Jan. 19/2: The word ‘dongle’ has been appearing in many articles with reference to security systems for computer software [refers to alleged coinage in 1980].
  • @Mitch yes, we were discussing it over here, and it didn't have much attention. So I asked a related question in context to people that have the localized-language knowledge. I think this should be part of Programmers.SE, since such domain-language is, as I said, too-localized for a broad English Language site. Similar technology-precedents exit in History.SE as well, and I can link all of this if other mods would find it relevant to transfer back. Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 18:40
  • 1
    and, yes, if the question lives here then it is definitely a duplicate. But this site doesn't have as many tech-culture focused people as the sages at Programmers.SE Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 18:49
  • I remember encountering the word dongle for the first time around 1980 (in the UK) in a computer magazine (I forget the title) that was about Commodore PETs and the like. It was definitely before 1981. The meaning was the standard one: a piece of hardware which needed to be present before software would run.
    – user24964
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 14:49
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    It is used in many technical patents before 1980: patents.google.com/… Commented May 30, 2019 at 22:30

2 Answers 2


Dongle has been used as a placeholder name since the 1970s. Its origin is unknown. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition, says it is "probably [an] arbitrary coinage." A 1992 advertisement for Rainbow Technologies (now SafeNet—a dongle vendor in the U.S) claimed the word was derived from the name "Don Gall"—though untrue, this has given rise to an urban myth.

Dongle as the name of a device was used well before 1980 in the telecom industry to refer to BNC cable joiners of either gender.


The exact origin is uncertain.

The Oxford Dictionary lists the origin as an arbitrary formation. See here

Where as on merriam-webster origin is listed as perhaps an alteration of dangle: See here

Dongle was originally applied to software security devices intended to lock software to individual computers.

You can read about the history here: Dongle History

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    I hope not to sound rude, but since the OED information was quoted in the question, what was the value to answer with that info? Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 21:22
  • He/She edited the question..
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 19:08
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    Actually, the OED data was there from the start - I did not edit in any of it. Not sure what you could mean Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 20:16

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