What is meant by hardline?

A commenter named Ed asked,

"I am very concerned as that was definitely our garage that slid into the Batavia. My mom has a hardline phone in the house but probally does not realize it is a cordless requiring power. She is 70 and alone. We have not heard from her since 9:15 this morning." -- CNN

  • 4
    I would only use the word "hardline" to describe a phone that was not wireless at all, that is a landline with a wired phone. – David Schwartz Sep 1 '11 at 19:54
  • I'm not sure of the rest of the world, but there are emergency services implications between voip and a dedicated phone line in the US fcc.gov/consumers/guides/voip-and-911-service, which may merit a distinction regardless of the type of phone connected to it. – ColleenV Apr 6 '16 at 21:40

"Hardline" is a very rare term referring to the fact that the phone is a landline. Most people wouldn't understand it.. It's called a "hardline" phone because the line of the phone is fixed, unlike that of a mobile phone. Hence, the line is "hard", or somehow someone managed to see the connection. "Landline" is a much clearer term.

In context of the text you gave, the speaker is saying that the old lady, uses a cordless phone. But she doesn't know that it is actually a cordless and a landline, which meant that when the garage slid into the Batavia, the line was probably broken and she would have lost contact with the world, as her telephone no longer works.

It seems that "Hardline" was a popular term originally:

enter image description here

But, perhaps Google Ngrams isn't really too reliable, although it does provide some fact.

  • 3
    I wouldn't even dignify the usage with "very rare term". The "commenter" who wrote that is just some guy on Twitter or whatever, who can't even spell the word "definitely". He's simply getting mixed up with "hard-wired". – FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 20:50
  • It is used quite a bit of other people though – Thursagen Sep 1 '11 at 20:52
  • Absolutely - I don't say this guy made up the expression out of thin air. Just that he's applying it in the wrong context, because he's not a very competent speaker/writer. I myself am a bit "hardline" just now, in that I've downvoted the question (though not your answer, where I'm only ever so slightly quibbling over "very rare term"! :) – FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 20:55
  • That's not what "Ed" meant. His mother's landline is accessed with a cordless phone which must be powered by electricity. If the electricity is off, the phone won't work. It's possible there's a base station with a handset on a wire, that would still work (I think). – mkennedy Sep 3 '11 at 17:22
  • 5
    @Thursagen, "hardline" is a word, but it's rarely (if ever) used to describe phones. It's usually used to describe people or policies, which makes your Ngrams graph completely irrelevant. – Peter Taylor Sep 5 '11 at 13:44

Actually I might be able to offer a blast from the past here, having just dated myself at work. In my version of the old days (the '80s) cells were pretty rare until the end, and then they just weren't rare for us. We used the term landline already to refer to phones whose signals went over copper wires. We used the term 'hardline' to indicate a landline that was secure - I think the hardline term came from the fact that in addition to the signal processing, the lines themselves were often carried in armored monitored cable sheaths. It was often used in differentiating between 'call so and so' and 'call so and so on a hardline' where the latter meant it was to be a secure conversation - of course back then we still thought triple DES was worth something ;-D

  • I may be revealing my age, but the secure line was the first thing that jumped to mind when I read "hardline". I think it just distinguishes between voip and dedicated phone wire these days. – ColleenV Apr 6 '16 at 21:39
  • True enough in a world with comsec capable wireless devices on XXXXNet. My only intent was to observe possible ancestry of the term with respect to what it originally distinguished. Reason for the post was a web search that resulted from me using 'hardline' in a conversation where the audience was expecting 'landline' - I guess I should just give up and start reading Chaucer :-) – Mark Mullin Apr 6 '16 at 23:47

A "Hard line" phone system is just historical terminology for the 6 volt telephones of old using a physical twisted pair 24 AWG wiring to connect personal, and commercial telephones to a central patch board (kind of like a Local PBX board) through overhead, and underground cabling. For the layman, just think of everything being physically connected by wire, and the typical wireless item, back then, being the cordless handsets using tuners recognizing the base station on the desk, or kitchen counter. Hope this put things in a little better perspective! Dalex


A "hardline" phone is a phone that connects to the telephone grid via a material, physical (thus, "hard") wire (or, "line"). Even if it is a "cordless phone", because the base set connects to the phone grid via a physical wire, it can still be called a "hard-line" phone.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.