I recently wondered how the "old" came into the "Plain Old Documentation" of Perl's documentation format "POD". Was it named like this from the beginning? If so, why was it considered old back then?

What I figured out so far:

  • POD seems to have been introduced during the 5.00x times as the oldest Perl 5.x tar ball I could find was perl5.004.tar.gz and it contained at least one POD file from October 1996.

    In the same directory there are also hashsum files for Perl 5.003, but the tar ball itself is missing.

  • The Perl 4.036 tar ball didn't have any POD, at least there was no file ending in .pod and an egrep -r '^=' yielded nothing POD-like. The tar ball as a last-modified time stamp from February 1994.

  • According to perldoc perlhist, 5.000alpha1 was released on 1993-Jul-31 and 5.000 is from 1994-Oct-17.

I currently assume that POD wasn't invented after 5.000, so I think the term "Plain Old Documentation" must have been coined around 1993/1994.

One colleague suggested that the "old" refers to POD being a plain text format in comparison to all the binary formats common for word processing back then (Works, Word, Rich Text Format, etc.).

Anyone knows more details or can confirm some of the suspicions I mentioned?

  • 27
    "plain old" is a common English idiom meaning "ordinary", so your penultimate paragraph sounds about right. Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 17:57
  • 1
    @manassehkatz: That's known, obvious and wasn't the question. ;-) (JFTR: I know POD for longer than I know Markdown. But despite I had to use Perl 4 about 20 years ago, I can't remember when I first stumbled over POD. But it must have been about 15 to 20 years ago. :-) Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 18:08
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    Re "plain old" - perhaps the first use I heard of such a phrase was as part of POTS, for Plain Old Telephone Service; that became a useful term when digital services such as ISDN started to appear. Nowadays, "plain old" is as much a tech cliché as "considered harmful" was to a previous era.
    – dave
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 22:51
  • 2
    Who's voting to close this as off-topic and, more importantly, why? I don't see a problem with it.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 18:20
  • 3
    @wizzwizz4: Thanks! I've deliberately chosen retrocomputing (over e.g. stackoverflow), because this question doesn't fit anywhere else better. And I don't see why it would be off-topic (which is what the two voters argue about), either. It's software archaeology, just not hardware archaeology and not about running old stuff, just about its history. Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 12:32

1 Answer 1


This commit (recreated much later) introduces POD files, in version 5.000; its parent, corresponding to alpha 9, doesn’t have them, so it appears they were introduced between alpha 9 in May 1994 and the 5.000 release in October 1994.

This message on comp.lang.perl suggests that POD was a reaction to roff (and its availability, or lack thereof, on various platforms), among other reasons:

I'm very well aware of this but it requires nroff (not readily available on VMS, MS-DOS, AmigaDOS etc).

This is one of the reasons Larry moved away from *roff format for the Perl 5 documentation. The P in pod can also stand for portable.

and this message quotes another message (not available in the archives) which says

Sorry if I appear to be a yokal, but what is this pod stuff anyway?

I've never heard of it before now.

plain old documentation. it's a format larry designed recently for use by perl5. the ideas are it's easy of use, and that you write some translator from pod to some other markup language (two of these exist currently - pod2man and pod2html), so you can read it how ever you want.

(The highlighting is mine, or rather Axel’s.)


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