De re profanae
Posted on May 22, 2011 by Tommy McGuireAccording to Wikipedia, Alfréd Rényi, rather than Paul Erdős, said, "a mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems." My personal corollary to that is, "a programmer is a device for turning coffee into profanity." In the same vein, some other wit also said, "Profanity is the one language all programmers know best." There are many reasons why invective and informatics go hand-in-hand. I personally do not have a problem with that, though for most of my career I have been the one in the office who cursed the least. My sole reason was that when I do, I want people to pay attention. At the moment, however, I seem to be one of the fouler folks around. This is somewhat unsettling, but it makes for a quieter workplace anyway.
I do not have a problem with profanity, but I do have a problem with euphemisms. Specifically, the term "f-bomb", which seems to be more common than I had realized. A while back, I ran across a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education involving a student at Hinds Community College who received 4/5 of a suspension after uttering the word "fuck" after class. What I found upsetting was not the story (Who expects maturity from one of those diploma mills?), but the response. The title of the story was entertaining, but several of the commentors seemed to be using the term "f-bomb" with a straight face. Most of the Chronicle's readers are teachers and administrators at institutes of higher education; I expect them to know better.
I am afraid I have news for some. "Fuck" is a word. It is not a bomb. It will not explode. It cannot kill anyone. If you, like those Chronicle readers, are dealing with people potentially in military service who are likely to face real explosive devices, it is a bit silly to dance around a word as if it were dangerous.
To bring this back to programming a bit, I am not a really big fan of profanity in code. Again, it does not bother me, but seeing a comment such as "This in fucking stupid!" is less useful to me than seeing a description why it is stupid and letting me exercise my own vocabulary. On the other hand, if you cannot mention "brainfuck" without turning red, I am going to have to suggest that you need to grow up a bit. (I hesitate to mention Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, England.) And if you interrupt me while I am battling Java, that will not be Yosemite Sam I am quoting.
This post brought to you by the geniuses behind Java, who have shown their creativity by introducing every possible interface mistake, misdesign, and gratuitous stupidity known to mankind.