Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A hardware device that serves as copy protection for certain software by rendering the software inoperable when the device is not plugged into a printer port.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Any small device which plugs into an electronic device, typically a computer, and alters its functionality. Common examples include wireless modems, software copy protect devices, and adapters. Some USB keyboards and mice include USB to PS/2 adapter dongles, enabling their use on machines with PS/2 ports.
  • n. A hardware device utilized by a specific application for purposes of copy protection.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. (computer science) an electronic device that must be attached to a computer in order for it to use protected software

Etymologies

Probably arbitrary coinage.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Apparently from dangle. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • As these statements suggest, a dongle is just an adapter you plug into the USB port on a TV, Blu-ray player, or home-theater system that allows it to connect wirelessly to your home network.

    Tech Talk: Dongle

  • The iPod dongle is attached to a special serial board that can translate the signal from the dongle.

    Turn A Nike+ Sensor Into A Keyless Car Entry System | Lifehacker Australia

  • Curious about this rather odd term, I checked out Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, which tracks the first use of the word dongle to 1981, defining it as "a small device that plugs into a computer and serves as an adapter or as a security measure to enable the use of certain software."

    Tech Talk: Dongle

  • | Reply you got it wrong … the USB dongle is for people that dont have wireless routers already, and can just plug that dongle into their PC, which will shoot the wireless to the console wirelessly.

    EXTRALIFE – By Scott Johnson - A nice breakdown of all Wii know

  • A dongle is a piece of hardware that plugs into a computer and verifies that you did in fact purchase this five thousand dollar software package.

    Archive 2010-03-01

  • (As an alternative, you can connect a non-carrier netbook to 3G by using a so-called dongle that plugs into, and dangles from, a USB port.)

    Dueling netbooks: AT&T vs. Verizon

  • As an alternative, you can connect a non-carrier netbook to 3G by using a so-called dongle that plugs into, and dangles from, a USB port.

    Dueling netbooks: AT&T vs. Verizon

  • The dongle is a HUAWEI Technology usb modem, Vendor number 12d1, product id 1520.

    Fedora People

  • The dongle, which is being manufactured in Malaysia, costs $119.

    Fast Company

  • The inclusion of a physical dongle, which is coupled to the software via a software licensing system, greatly reduces the means to pirate software while still easily allowing the software to move from machine-to-machine.

    VMblog.com - Virtualization Technology News and Information for Everyone

Comments

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  • The first use of the word dongle that I can find is in the influential BBC radio show The Goons dating back to January 24th 1956

    In the episode The Jet Propelled NAAFI (series 6 Episode 19) the character Seagoon says

    "Great larrups of dongle. He thinks he's a little tea-stained, crumpet-ridden idiot."

    Also in December 1957. The episode Vanishing Room contains the line

    "Flip my dongle and lower my grobblers"

    The word was also used in one of the early Monty Python episodes.

    May 1, 2011

  • A couple of weeks ago in a meeting I had to explain the meaning of this word to the whole marketing department. I think I got as far as "it's a device..."

    July 26, 2009