I was wondering when and why people would start calling music-styles or explicit films "hardcore", and when people started using it as slang.

There's a German saying "harte Schale, weicher Kern" (hard shell, soft core), which means essentially "looking tough on the outside, but being soft on the inside," so the picture of the word "hardcore" looks familiar to me as a German speaker. However, it seems quite unnatural to call a thing "hardcore" for being especially on the limit.

Does anyone know the origin of the word "hardcore" (or "softcore")?


  • Hardcore: p also hard-core; 1936 (n.); 1951 (adj.); from hard (adj.) + core (n.). Original use seems to be among economists and sociologists, in reference to unemployables. Extension to pornography is attested by 1966. Also the name of a surfacing material. etymonline.com/index.php?term=hardcore
    – user66974
    Apr 22, 2016 at 11:24
  • Adjective soft-core (in reference to pornography) is from 1966 (see hardcore). Soft rock as a music style is attested from 1969.
    – user66974
    Apr 22, 2016 at 11:26
  • 1
    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/35120/…
    – user66974
    Apr 22, 2016 at 11:57

3 Answers 3


Just as a reminder, Douglas Harper is a decent enough guy but not a reliable source. He just cribs other sources, often badly.

Hardcore is obviously a compound of hard + core and, as you'd expect, it shows up first (early 19th century) in reference to building material with a literal "hard core" but no other distinguishing features (=rubble). By the first decades of the 20th century, that had become a single word and then started being used more broadly. The ''OED'' gives a 1916 use in the ''Burlington Magazine'', No. 29, p. 39: "However good socialists we may be, we all have, I believe, a hard core of anarchism within us..." The 1936 references to the "hard core" of unemployables who shouldn't expect to be redeemed by New Deal social programs describe the term as already in widespread use.

The sense you're complaining about is all from porn, though. It was originally an obvious pun, but has seen greater use as sex and drugs and rock'n'roll stopped being transgressive and simply became part of the mainstream culture.

[Trivia: As far as the OED knows, the first use of hardcore in reference to music is a Canadian who was praising Jamaican artists who would slip their discs into David Bowie's covers in the late '70s.]


An import?

1937 document opining that the term "hard-core unemployment" is appropriate in the US.

From: Social security in the United States


I was reading about garlic and learned there is hardcore and softcore varieties.. The hardcore is stronger tasting....more offensive, makes more sense then the other nonsense, right?

  • 1
    It would help if you have some evidence of this use of hardcore pre-dating the term's use in other areas. Apr 24, 2020 at 5:34

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