5

Bricked (informal): cause (a smartphone or other electronic device) to become completely unable to function, typically on a permanent basis.

The absolute earliest google hit I was able to find on this term is from late 2004/early 2005, in reference to installing custom firmware on routers or game consoles such as the PSP. Given the casualness with which the term is being used at that date, however, this makes me think it's been around for a lot longer in the modding or electronics communities.

Who coined this term, and when? And is there any deeper meaning beyond "cause to become as useful as a literal brick"?

  • I have a vague recollection of someone using this to describe a computer peripheral with hardware damage to the point of being cheaper to just replace back in the first half of the 1990s. The voice I'm remembering hear saying this belongs to someone I haven't seen (or heard) since 1994. He did assert that it was because that was the only thing it was good for, or possibly a doorstop. Retrocomputing SE might know more. – Ed Grimm Mar 6 at 6:15
  • May be the meaning was derived from the other meaning of brick: to fail, to deliver as promised US, 1993. – Ubi hatt Mar 10 at 15:03
4

I remember bricked from the early to mid-2000s, when programming mobile phone involved plugging it into a special jig and flashing new firmware into the EEPROM.

If something went wrong, the phone would not boot at all and could not be recovered, rendering it no more useful than a brick on your desk.

I found some similar uses from the 1990s in Usenet.

From: Hank Gupton Subject: Re: HP 4020I Frimware 1.2?? Date: 1996/01/11

newsgroups: comp.publish.cdrom.hardware

The firmware upgrade is being released in new drives. But, the delivery system for firmware upgrades is still being worked on.

To this I say, "Good job, guys!" But, what is wrong with a Beta release of the software with the following statement?

Warning:  This upgrade is a fast way of turning your 
          thousand dollar investment into a brick.
          Use at your own risk.

https://groups.google.com/d/original/comp.publish.cdrom.hardware/O4jwtQXxVyQ/FIb4m-dTLJQJ

From: "Robert Holloman, Jr." Subject: Re: V.90 Date: 1998/02/28

Newsgroups: comp.dcom.modems

Plus there's always the small possibility of "bricking" the modem due to a failed flash. That happened recently with one Sportster model. I was flashing my Courier recently only to have the power brownout a couple minutes after it finished. Was I breathing a sigh of relief! That was the incentive for me to finally get a UPS. :)

https://groups.google.com/d/original/comp.dcom.modems/ozv7zZUYzR8/8YAImlKcU8kJ

5

The best I found is April 16th 2002:

Enginer88..help! they bricked my modem! :(

i jsut got home, and my modem didnt work. I called them up, and they said it was disabled, but no reason why...

Could you please find out whats up?

my mac addy is 0004bd02cb52

If you can please unbrick it...i need to get some work done tonite..and this dialup is killing me

  • That use looks like it was already established but like so much recent tech jargon it probably developed online in forums that aren't archived – Chris H Mar 6 at 8:42
  • Very nice. I wasn't getting anything from 2002, so I'll update that in the question. Sadly though, this doesn't get us much closer to the original coining of the term, since if it's being used casually enough that a newbie is using it when asking for help on forums, it's probably been floating around a lot more prior to then. – Mikey T.K. Mar 6 at 15:48
  • Here's one from 2000: groups.google.com/d/msg/sol.lists.freebsd.mobile/DzRqAT_JIsU/… It's a little tricky because apparently there was a technique of creating backups in multiple parts that was called "Bricked Backups" so the word "bricked" appears a lot in the tech forums of the day, but in a different sense. – shoover Mar 7 at 23:22
  • I ran into a similar alternate sense in a 1995 Microsoft Exchange book. Apparently a "bricked backup" is a process where you insert bits and pieces of restored data into an Exchange datastore. Nothing to do with something being broken, though. It's just a data transfer method. – Mikey T.K. Mar 8 at 17:46
3

I first heard this ca 1975, used in reference to a computer disk drive. A disk drive of the time was a device maybe 6"x8"x3" (a lot of variations), rectangular, solid, and dark colored (save for an aluminum cover on one side).

If something happened to damage the drive (either electrical damage or mechanical damage) it was often not repairable. It was common to say it was "good for a door-stop", but then the verb "bricked" became popular.

Likely the popularity of the term was encouraged by the appearance of stacks of the dead devices in the corners of computer rooms, stacked like bricks.

Incidentally: At one point (I'm thinking about 1985) the most common cause for "bricking" a disk drive in our labs was simply plugging it into the computer rack. Apparently the mechanical shock of the drive snapping into its mount was enough to damage it. We learned to be very careful when inserting and removing drives.

2

Hard as I searched, I could not find any official sources (from English language perspective) but this term most likely originated from the original mobile phone model which was nicknamed the brick due to its size & weight (especially after newer lighter models replaced it thus making it as good as a brick due to it's bulk/weight).

Here are some sources:
https://www.techrepublic.com/blog/classics-rock/morphing-a-1983-motorola-dynatac-into-an-iphone/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorola_DynaTAC
https://neologisms.rice.edu/index.php?a=term&d=1&t=21175

  • Long before cells, the ubiquitous Motorola radio was affectionately known as a brick. – Phil Sweet Mar 8 at 1:57
2

Minscribe (a now defunct hard drive manufacturer) tried to cook the books by shipping bricks (yes, fired clay rectangular objects that had the same approximate weight as the older style hard drives) rather than actual hard drives and doing some legerdemain with the invoices in 1987 - naughty, naughty - naturally they were exposed, beaten around the head and shoulders, mea culpa, mistakes were made, lessons were learned, they found Jesus and from there the concept went into idiom immortality!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MiniScribe

2

While not definitive, my source for technical terms would be The Jargon File, which contains the following for brick:

A piece of equipment that has been programmed or configured into a hung, wedged, unusable state. Especially used to describe what happens to devices like routers or PDAs that run from firmware when the firmware image is damaged or its settings are somehow patched to impossible values. This term usually implies irreversibility, but equipment can sometimes be unbricked by performing a hard reset or some other drastic operation. Sometimes verbed: “Yeah, I bricked the router because I forgot about adding in the new access-list.”.
The on-line hacker Jargon File, version 4.4.7

According to its change log, this entry was added in version 4.4.5, which was published on "04 OCT 2003".

Taking the hint from the entry, I searched for brick the router in Google Groups, and found this entry, dated "13 Aug 2001":

If you haven't done so already, download the latest firmware. (Follow the directions TO THE LETTER when flashing firmware, or else you could possibly "brick" the router... I've flashed my DI- 701 with two or three updates so far without incident... Just be careful and you should have no problems).
John (Technoid) on comp.dcom.modems.cable

0

In the 'electronics community', brick once referred to the practice of putting circuits inside a plastic box and filling it with potting compound. This protected the contents from moisture and prying fingers, but also made the device un-repairable.
The term brick now refers to any device that isn't worth repairing, which usually includes any device that shows no sign of life.

  • I always heard that called a "pot". – Hot Licks Mar 7 at 0:26
  • Yes, but the 'pot' was usually a cheap plastic rectangular prism, and the whole was as useless as a brick if any part of the circuit inside failed. – AmI Mar 7 at 0:37
  • Actually, it was fairly expensive epoxy resin. – Hot Licks Mar 7 at 23:19
  • I meant the container -- the filler could be epoxy or some other horrid substance (like hot glue resin). – AmI Mar 8 at 6:27
-1

The metaphor expresses the notion that mobile phone which is not working is no more use than a brick would be. The earliest versions of cell phones were often described as "bricks" due to their bulk.

  • Actually, prior to cellphones (back some time in the 60s) IBM field engineers carried a radio device of about brick size and shape that permitted effectively entering text messages and making phone calls (to the home office only). It was commonly referred to as a "brick". But saying it was "bricked" if not working would have been meaningless. – Hot Licks Mar 6 at 13:34

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