In early 2016, when Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign was looking for a way to connect with supporters and recruit volunteers, it turned to Hustle, a mass texting platform that had been created barely 18 months earlier. Sanders eventually lost the Democratic nomination, but San Francisco-based Hustle hustles on, shifting its efforts toward the anti-Trump resistance. Hustle’s goals may be more overtly political than those of other technology startups, but the company’s name perfectly encapsulates an entire industry’s ethos: move fast, be aggressive, shake things up.
Hustle is far from a new word or concept; it’s been in the English lexicon for nearly 350 years. It comes from Dutch husselen, which means “to shake,” but it quickly developed additional senses in English, including “to crowd or push roughly,” “to obtain by fraud or deception,” “to steal,” “to beg,” and – by the 1920s – “to swindle.” (The noun form followed the same semantic route.) As early as 1825, a “hustler” was a thief; a century later, it could refer to a prostitute. Writing in the 1890s about his travels through “Our Great West,” Julian Ralph observed that “The key-note and countersign of life in these cities [of the U.S. West] is the word ‘hustle.’ We have caught it in the East. but we use it humorously, just as we once used the Southern word ‘skedaddle,’ but out West the word hustle is not only a serious term, it is the most serious in the language.”