The Hacker’s Dictionary defines Brute Force:
"Describes a primitive programming style, one in which the programmer relies on the computer’s processing power instead of using his or her own intelligence to simplify the problem, often ignoring problems of scale and applying naive methods suited to small problems directly to large ones. The term can also be used in reference to programming style: brute-force programs are written in a heavyhanded, tedious way, full of repetition and devoid of any elegance or useful abstraction."
I first heard this term in basic Computer Science courses, the classic example is a "brute force search" of a database. Instead of using a clever index system, the brute force method examines every single record and checks for a match, one by one. The method relies on the brute force of manually processing every single record. It is time consuming, but sometimes necessary when the indexes contain errors.
I often use this term to refer to a brute force search of my paper files. Right now I’m hunting for some financial documents from 1995, I can’t find them anywhere so I’ve been doing a brute force search of every single paper in my files, and I’ve got about boxes and boxes full of papers. I took 5 banker’s boxes of records from the last 10 years, handled every single sheet of paper, tossed out all the chaff, and sorted the rest into file folders. I’ve sorted and sorted until my fingers are bloody from paper cuts. And of course, the records I’m looking for have not yet appeared. Now I will have to extend the search even further, and open more old boxes. Darn it, where did 1995 go to?
Update March 15, 2005: Quite by accident, I located the records I was seeking. So that means I searched for almost exactly 3 years for these stupid papers.