What is the history of the word "troubleshoot"?

At face value, it seems to be mean "aiming for trouble." Which must be short-hand for locating the source of the trouble by reproducing it under different circumstances.

How did the term come to be?

Who were the first "troubleshooters"?

Merriam-Webster says the first known use of the verb was "1918, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense", but doesn't give any more details.

  • 9
    It doesn't mean "aim for trouble", but rather "shoot the trouble." :)
    – Frantisek
    Dec 2, 2011 at 16:36
  • @RiMMERΨ, I always took it to mean "Shooting for trouble" -> "trouble shooter". Do you have any source to back that up?
    – user606723
    Dec 2, 2011 at 17:04

9 Answers 9


Per http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=453630, the term originally came from "trouble-hunter"

"Hunting" is far more informative than "Shooting", and I think it answers my question.

It implies that the term really means to "seek and kill" trouble, which is different than just shooting, in my opinion.

As others have said, the term was originally used in the context of mending telephone (and probably telegraph) lines


Etymonline has it tracked to troubleshooter

also trouble-shooter, 1898, originally one who works on telegraph or telephone lines. From trouble (n.) + shoot (v.).


Oxford Dictionaries Pro defines troubleshoot as 'analyse and solve serious problems for a company or other organization'. It gives troubleshooter as a ‘derivative’. The OED , on the other hand, has no entry for troubleshoot but gives two meanings for troubleshooter:

  1. A person who traces and corrects faults in machinery and equipment (originally specifically on a telegraph or telephone line). (My emphasis.)

  2. One who specializes in removing or solving difficulties; especially a mediator in diplomatic or industrial affairs.

The earliest citation for (1) is dated 1905 and for (2) 1927. The etymology is given as trouble + shooter, and shooter is elsewhere defined simply as one who shoots.


In the 1800s during the explosion of mining towns, the mines used to hire people as "security guards" against thieves coming and taking over the mine and stealing the gold or silver. These people were called trouble shooters. They were to shoot intruders, thieves, and those causing trouble. References to such can be seen in movies such as Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter where he is hired as their trouble shooter as the previous ones were killed. Over time the term has evolved to mean those able to resolve problems.

  • 2
    I'd love to hear more sources of this use.
    – user606723
    Jun 25, 2013 at 18:04
  • 1
    I agree with @user606723. This is interesting information, but it becomes a good answer when you provide a source. Apr 29, 2020 at 14:47

Troubleshooter or troubleshooting has nothing do to with shooting anything. It is the art of problem-solving, and the term originated in the late 18th century or early 19th century when technicians were dispatched to find problems in telegraph and phone line infrastructure, and then find a way to repair or work around the issues. Historically then, the term troubleshooter meant to find and solve technical problems and issues.

Today, troubleshooting can mean any effort to analyze not only issues or problems with technical systems, but also is a methodology to find and address issues within any organizational or political situation, and then recommend how the situation or event can be repaired or resolved.

Good troubleshooters will analyze the situation, and then make an educated guess on the most likely cause of the problems being encountered (based upon logic or previous experience), and focus on those potential problem areas first. Once the problem is identified, they will attempt to isolate and fixed the issue as quicky and efficiently as possible.


According to Dictionary.com:

1930–35; back formation from troubleshooter

And about troubleshooter it says:

1900–05; trouble + shooter

Not terribly helpful. Perhaps "shooter" was used to suggest shooting trouble with a gun, as in trying to destroy it. "He's a troubleshooter, he shoots that trouble right through the heart."

  • I thought that might be the case too, but do you have any sources to back that up? (about the latter). And I know how to look things up in Dictionary.com. I was looking for a bit more that =)
    – user606723
    Dec 2, 2011 at 16:41
  • Perhaps the meaning of shoot meant is meaning (8) from here, "to pass through or over quickly", as in shoot the rapids. Dec 2, 2011 at 16:56
  • @BrianHooper I'm not so sure of that, I'd interpret that sort of "troubleshooter" to glance over a problem and either "solve" it with little more than a quick-and-dirty kludge or work around it.
    – Kevin
    Dec 2, 2011 at 16:59
  • If you mean a citation for coming from that definition of shoot, no but it's the only way I see it fitting. If you mean resolving trouble as opposed to creating it, look at the definition and ask any computer person.
    – Kevin
    Dec 2, 2011 at 17:16

I have also run into usage of the term "trouble shooter" associated with hiring armed guards (sometimes one step above thugs) in the United States West before the advent of formal legal systems. For example when referring to vigilante justice in the settling of land claim disputes in Omaha, Nebraska, "A Frenchman had staked a claim in 1854 on part of Alfred D. Jones's land and refused to move off. The club sent for Mr. Reeves, who had gained a reputation as a trouble-shooter in Missouri, and he took charge."


Troubleshooter - A gunman who works for a company and intimidates or shoots persons who make trouble (troublemakers) for the company.

Example: The gunfighters/thugs the railroads and cattle barons used to intimidate and/or kill small land owners into selling their land cheap to the company that hired the troubleshooter.

Example: The gunfighters the railroads hired to be railroad police to combat train robbers.

Sources: American Western movies, such as High Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood).

OK, that may not be the original use of the word. I don't know the original source.

P.S. - I found this link which says the origin was telegraph and railroad companies hired troubleshooters to kill the troublemakers who interfered with, or obstructed, the construction of telegraph or railroad lines. If this source is correct, then Hollywood got it right. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Troubleshooting


Why would anyone not see an original link to guns in the term? The logic would flow from issues in the old American West which was, for the most part, lawless. In those days, if a rancher or farmer had trouble with wild animals attacking his livelihood, his first recourse would be to shoot the offending animal. If claim jumpers were bothering (troubling) miners, they got shot. If some patron caused trouble in a bar, he got shot. Even the Indians of the day were prone to pull down telegraph wires that the White Man put up across their territory. Doing so made them troublemakers that required troubleshooters to balance the scales. This begs the answer that the term evolved to describe telegraph repair that would require firepower to back it up.

  • 3
    Your answer would benefit from linked references to support your claim. Apr 29, 2020 at 17:17

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