Cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk: why is it called "punk"?

Related but not helpful: Etymology of "punk"?

  • Steampunk, dieselpunk, etc are all snowclones of the original coining cyberpunk. Why cyberpunk? Because Headcrash came out in 1983, when the cool kids, the recognizable rebellious youth subculture, were punks.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 10:35
  • 3
    You know, I jus found a really interesting piece on the origins of the word "cyberpunk" by the guy who coined it: The Etymology of Cyberpunk.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 10:51
  • @DanBron- Really good piece... Thanks for sharing.
    – Oldbag
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


The protagonists of cyberpunk stories are alienated, marginalised characters who are on the edges of society and are generally either professional criminals or at least not very law-abiding: They don't have a high opinion of respectable society, and respectable society doesn't have a high opinion of them.

This fits reasonably well with "punk", as does a tendency for them to hack things up in their own way rather than use (or be able to afford) whatever is the current off-the-shelf kit fit with punk's DIY aesthetic.

Cyberpunk has been summarised as "low-life characters in high-tech society" and "low-tech people in a high-tech world", both of which touch on this feature of the genre.

A story could have an influence of cyberpunk directly or indirectly through its influencing steampunk and dieselpunk and not feature such characters, though generally even if the protagonists of such characters are of a more privileged position they tend to be estranged from that position in some way.

  • In NYC, "punk" has a completely different meaning. It may have evolved from the "Punk Rock" movement in the 80's. At that time dressing oneself in black leather and excess metal was fashionable - possibly an homage to the "bad boy" look of the early 60's. Now, someone who tries to look tough - but isn't - is a punk (or, sissy) - Hence, the expression "punk-out" (chicken-out)
    – Oldbag
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 14:58
  • @Oldbag that's actually a reversion to an older meaning of punk, from prior to the "punk" of "punk rock", but the "punks" of "cyberpunk" are definitely "bad boys".
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 15:05
  • So, what/wherefore was the old usage...?
    – Oldbag
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 15:17
  • @Oldbag the oldest meaning is "prostitute", later specifically a homosexual male prostitute or kept male homosexual lover, then later a gay man (c.f. how gay meant promiscuous, then prostitute, then male prostitute, then homosexual). Roughly contemporaneously with the move from "male prostitute" => "any man who has gay sex" there was "male prostitute" => "any petty criminal, thug or contemptible person". The petty-criminal sense gave us the "bad boy" sense that gave us "punk rock" while the "gay man" sense gave us the "effeminate or cowardly" sense and "punk out".
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 15:28
  • Fascinating... Thanks! Do you have an approximate century on that "prostitute" def.?
    – Oldbag
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 18:09

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