The name stands for Practical Extraction and Reporting Language but also Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister -- pick one, both are official, and both are backronyms.
Perl, the Practical Extraction and Report Language, was first released by LarryWall, a linguist and programmer, in 1987. Since then it has become the automation tool of choice for systems administrators and programmers around the world. It is a bytecode compiled general purpose programming language that aims to make work easy, but requires training and practice to use well, and allows for procedural, OO and functional programming styles. Text manipulation is a major strength of the language, in large part due to its RegularExpression syntax which has served as the base for many other RegularExpression engines. It shines at any kind of data munging due to very versatile and powerful data types that are seamlessly allocated, grown, shrunk and garbage collected as necessary. During the years, its community has built a huge library of freely usable modular extensions for almost any purpose imaginable, called CPAN. This combination of features makes it ideal for rapid development, testing and maintainance of most any type of application.
It is available for a bewildering number of platforms: virtually all known and current Unix derivatives are supported as are other systems like Windows, MacOS, VMS, MS-DOS, OS/2, QNX, BeOS, and the Amiga. Perl is now included in the default installs of Apple's MacOSX and Sun Solaris version 9.
Perl is most commonly associated with web programming, being the development tool of choice for many people serving dynamic, data driven web pages. Several methods are available for running Perl on the web, such as the ever-popular CGI and mod_perl, the enterprise-class application module. According to Security Space, mod_perl is deployed on over 1.6 million Apache web servers, a constantly-rising figure that does not include the millions of servers running Perl through CGI.