What does "We must hack it" mean in the following context?

“Stop this, Pinkerton,” I broke in. “I know the address: 924 Mission Street.” I do not know whether Pinkerton or Bellairs was the more taken aback. “Why in snakes didn't you say so, Loudon?” cried my friend. “You didn't ask for it before,” said I, colouring to my temples under his troubled eyes. It was Bellairs who broke silence, kindly supplying me with all that I had yet to learn. “Since you know Mr. Dickson's address,” said he, plainly burning to be rid of us, “I suppose I need detain you no longer.”

I do not know how Pinkerton felt, but I had death in my soul as we came down the outside stair, from the den of this blotched spider. My whole being was strung, waiting for Jim's first question, and prepared to blurt out—I believe, almost with tears—a full avowal. But my friend asked nothing.

“We must hack it,” said he, tearing off in the direction of the nearest stand. “No time to be lost. You saw how I changed ground. No use in paying the shyster's commission.”

Again I expected a reference to my suppression; again I was disappointed. It was plain Jim feared the subject, and I felt I almost hated him for that fear. At last, when we were already in the hack and driving towards Mission Street, I could bear my suspense no longer.

(From The Wrecker by R. L. Stevenson and L. Osbourne, chapter X, published 1892) https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Wrecker_(Stevenson)/Chapter_10

1 Answer 1


We must hack it,” said he, tearing off in the direction of the nearest stand.
The clue is in the same sentence. He is referring to a stand, a place where Hackney Cabs wait for customers - just as modern taxis have a stand outside, say, a railway station. So he means "We must take a Hackney Cab to the address" presumably the quickest way of getting there in 1892.
"hack" has nothing to do with the modern meaning in computing or engineering, it is short for "taking a hackney cab"

  • 1
    OED sense 4.b. (1879–1923): † intransitive. To ride in a hack or cab. Obsolete. I didn't recognise it.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 15:59
  • However, "We must hack it" could also mean something like "We must make it" or "we must manage it". Do you absolutely rule this out? - Pinkerton is American - oed.com/search/advanced/…
    – philphil
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 21:23
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    @philphil Pinkerton may be an American, but Robert Louis Stephenson was British, writing for a British audience at the time. What could the sentence mean otherwise? "We must manage it" said he, tearing off in the direction of the nearest stand. makes little sense. So yes, I rule out other interpretations. Hack meaning to work on seems not to have come into use until the mid 20th century, Of course there are several further meanings of the word such as to chop into pieces, but I doubt that was meant either in this context . Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 22:44

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