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Clipping of frobnicate, from frobnitz, coined circa 1958 by David R. Sawyer of the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC).[1] Year of origin uncertain, and could be 1958–1981: frob is not listed in the TMRC dictionaries of 1959 or 1960,[2] and is first listed in the Jargon File (1981 edition), so it may date from the 1960s or 1970s. Possibly variant of or influenced by frotsus (a protruding arm or trunnion), which is listed in TMRC 1959 and 1960.


frob (plural frobs)

  1. (MIT, slang) Any small device or object (usually hand-sized) which can be manipulated.
    Hand me that frob there, will you?


frob (third-person singular simple present frobs, present participle frobbing, simple past and past participle frobbed)

  1. (computing, slang, rare, transitive) To manipulate in some ill-defined way; to tweak or mess about with.
    • 1995, Wayne Ause, Instant HTML Web Pages, page 29:
      I sketched about 30 different versions, then scanned them in and played around until I got it right, then frobbed it with Photoshop.
  2. (Silicon Valley, slang) To perform a task that is clear to the speaker but too complex or tedious to be explained, so that outside help is not helpful.
    Why don't you go get lunch? I need to frob with this thing for about 30 minutes and then we'll be good to go.
  3. (programming, Linux, Gnu C) To transform and obscure in a trivial fashion with memfrob(3).

Usage notes[edit]

Sometimes contrasted with twiddle and tweak: frob for aimless manipulation, twiddle for coarse manipulation, and tweak for fine manipulation.[1]

Related terms[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Eric S[teven] Raymond, editor (2003 December 29), “frobnicate”, in The Jargon File, version 4.4.7.
  2. ^ Peter R. Samson (1959 June) An Abridged Dictionary of the TMRC Language[1], first annotated edition, Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT, published 2005, archived from the original on 2007-07-07; Peter R. Samson (1960) An Abridged Dictionary of the TMRC Language[2], second annotated edition, Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT, published 2005, archived from the original on 2007-05-04.

Further reading[edit]