Because of the success of StackExchange.com I am having difficulty researching the term on the Internet. Where does it come from? I know the phrase comes out of computer programming, but my experience in computer languages ended in the late 70s when my BASIC program intended to calculate payroll used up all of the memory in our lab's shared TRS-80.
Don't laugh at me. I am old.

  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about English. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 7:33
  • @Susan With my tongue firmly in cheek (And that was an allusion!) what language are we using? Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 13:59
  • @MichaelOwenSartin - hmm, seeing as I hardly understand the answer, I'd say computer programing? Sorry. I don't often initiate a close. :( Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


Love this question!

Here's the story of the founding from the genius Jeff Atwood's blog.

They do not expound upon the name but I think it's fair to deduce that it is in fact, as you suppose, computer-related. This is especially likely given that the first Stack Exchange site, Stack Overflow, is concerned with programming languages and that Atwood's career is built upon programming.

But stack isn't so much a concept of programming as it is one of computer science. Some definitions are first needed. In computer science, a stack is a structured data set, which can be amended with a push or a pop, which are additions and subtractions from the dataset, respectively. The egalitarian nature of Stack sites means anyone can push data (in the form of questions, answers, suggestions, etc.) into the collective dataset, or stack. Only those with special privileges are able to pop, or remove from the stack.

Truthfully, I don't think it's the most appropriate metaphor. In computer science and especially in the rigorous methodology involved in maintaining complex systems stringent rules regarding, for example, a structure's form, data quality, chaining of events, and interrelationships are required. But it is an adequate metaphor, I think.

  • 1
    A stack overflow in your code is a very specific (and very bad!) thing to have. I suppose the site was created as a way of ‘overflowing’ your ‘question stack’ on to other people, metaphorically speaking. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 1:05
  • 1
    @jboneca: I pushed your answer twice, which caused it to pop, so I pushed it again. Thanks! Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 1:11
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Agreed. I don't want to steal your thunder if you want to submit that as an answer, but I'll gladly add that as an edit. The "overflow" is certainly referencing just what you suggest. But now that it has expanded to being more than just Stack Overflow, I thought I would maybe expand it a bit to "stacks" in general.
    – emsoff
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 1:13
  • @MichaelOwenSartin Haha, very clever ;)
    – emsoff
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 1:16
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    It's also a pun on the term stock exchange.
    – bib
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 1:41

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