Perl is short for "Practical Extraction and Report Language," although it has also been called a "Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister." There's no point in arguing which one is more correct, because both are endorsed by Larry Wall, Perl's creator and chief architect, implementor, and maintainer. He created Perl when he was trying to produce some reports from a Usenet-news-like hierarchy of files for a bug-reporting system, and awk ran out of steam. Larry, being the lazy programmer that he is, decided to over-kill the problem with a general-purpose tool that he could use in at least one other place. The result was the first version of Perl.
After playing with this version of Perl a bit, adding stuff here and there, Larry released it to the community of Usenet readers, commonly known as "the Net." The users on this ragtag fugitive fleet of systems around the world (tens of thousands of them) gave him feedback, asking for ways to do this, that, or the other, many of which Larry had never envisioned his little Perl handling.
But as a result, Perl grew, and grew, and grew, at about the same rate as the UNIX operating system. (For you newcomers, the entire UNIX kernel used to fit in 32K! And now we're lucky if we can get it in under a few meg.) It grew in features. It grew in portability. What was once a little language now had over a thousand pages of documentation split across dozens of different manpages, a 600-page Nutshell reference book, a handful of Usenet newsgroups with 200,000 subscribers, and now this gentle introduction.
Larry is no longer the sole maintainer of Perl, but retains his executive title of chief architect. And Perl is still growing.
This book was tested with Perl version 5.0 patchlevel 4 (the most recent release as I write this). Everything here should work with 5.0 and future releases of Perl. In fact, Perl 1.0 programs work rather well with recent releases, except for a few odd changes made necessary in the name of progress.