Who first called cubicles...cubicles?

According to Wikipedia the term ‘cubicle’ has been around since the 15th century and basically means ‘small room’;


And apparently the first ones as we now know them were developed starting in the 1960’s. But for some time they were called, if anything, ‘Action Offices’ or some derivative of that.

But who was the first to apply the term ‘cubicle’ to them?

(I’m sure someone will offer ‘Scott Adams’, but I have to believe it was earlier.)

Good question. My first real job in the late 80’s was in a cubicle but they called it a modular office.

No cite, but I used to work at Hewlett Packard in the early 80’s and it was well know silicon valley history that Hewlett and Packard fostered an egalitarian working environment where almost no one had offices, and even vice presidents sat in cubicles. I seem to recall that John Young, Bill Hewlett, and Dave Packard were the only guys with offices. I was under the impression that they pioneered the “open office” cubicle structure.

My first job in the 70’s was at a defense contractor where they were like just like cubicles, but unmoveable and built-in-place of wood. The employees called it ‘The Bullpen’.

I remember reading somewhere that one appealing feature of office cubicles was that they could be expensed (as was furniture), unlike actual walls, which had to be depreciated.

I have a suspicion that the original word cubicle is only coincidentally or perhaps through misunderstanding related to the modern sense of the term.

Cubiculum in Latin refers to a place for sleeping, from the verb cubāre. Words that end -cle in English often turn out to come from a Latin word where -culum indicates that the thing serves the function of the root word. Vehicle from vehiculum, that which carries people from one place to another, for example. Receptacle, from receptāculum meaning ‘the receivey thing’. Tentaculum, the touchy thing. Etc. Cubicle does not come from the Latin word cubus, meaning cube, even though such spaces are generally cubic in form.

My suspicion is that at some point people assumed that the word referred to the shape, and that’s why a word for a bedroom suddenly appeared as a word for a smallish workspace. I’d say that it was because people read -icle as meaning small, but I can’t find many examples of the smaller list of Latin words where -culum indicated dimunition that made it into English words.

Small spaces have been called cubicles for a long time, and it’s hard to separate out that meaning from the more specialized pre-fabricated one.

I did find this in Google Books from 1967, Readings in Marketing By Philip R. Cateora, Lee Richardson

There are so many earlier references to small cubicles that my guess is that someone may have called their product an Action Office but it became a cubicle as soon as real people started to refer to it.

Before that, you might have worked among rows and rows of desks in a big open room (if you didn’t have an office yourself). See “The Apartment” for a good example of that.

I guess a partial wall is better than no wall at all.

I worked at a place like that. The fixed, wood cubicle walls go back at least to the 1950s

And according to this, it was the Herman Miller Company that developed the idea of the “Action Office” in the 1960s. Apparently the idea of movable walls actually being adjusted as workflow and staffing changed didn’t work out they way they envisioned.

After a quick search, I can’t find the term cubicle as “a small workplace with partial walls inside a larger office” before 1991. Clearly my skills have failed, because Dilbert was published beginning in 1989.

Is it true, or only my impression, that cubicle offices are peculiarly American. I have worked in open plan offices, and offices off a corridor. I had a glass-walled office in a factory and a temporary office in a cabin at a hospital, but I have never seen cubicles over here, not even in films.

does any of this explain why the box-shaped storage areas are called “cubby holes”? I always thought that it was a crazy reference to young bears, but now I’m wondering if it is related to “cubicle”.

I think trhe early 1960s about nails the portable office wall cubicle.

I can find it in the 1962 Washington Post. Meaning what we think of as the moveable walls.

The OED has cites from 1483; for the first four hundred years or so, the word always referred to a place for sleeping.

There’s an interesting transitional use from 1858 recorded: “The dormitory was a large chamber divided into about a dozen cubicles, or small sleeping apartments, by wooden partitions and doors which rose within a few feet of the ceiling.” This introduces the idea of the cubicle as part of a larger space, sectioned off with something-that-is-less-than-a-wall, while retaining the sense of a space for sleeping.

Then, from 1926, we have “Seminars, cubicles, and private studies will be provided for…advanced students, and visiting scholars” (from an article in the Bulletin of the American Library Association). The cubicles here do not appear to be places for sleeping.

The etymology of “cubby”, according to the OED, is uncertain, but it’s thought to be connected to words from various Germanic languages meaning a stock-pen, a lean-to shed for cattle, a crib, chest or bin for fodder or a fish-trap on a weir.

I believe libraries also had small, semi-private spaces for individual work that were called “cubicles.”

I worked at a place that had, by the later 70’s, old partition walls - cloth with glass tops - that must have been around for 10 or 15 years at least, possibly since the 1950’s.

IIRC the study noks in the University of Toronto Libraries were referred to as “Cubicles” in the early 1970s?

I think RF has a good point - a lot of old movies show rows and rows of desks all out in the open. (also Mad Men?) The peons worked there, and the more important people had real offices around the periphery. So cubicles were in fact a step up for the average worker, affording a bit of privacy.

Are you perhaps thinking of carrels?