Computer Programmer Folklore

Original source:

The birth of a programmer.


    Our group decided to study jokes unique to Computer Science and Engineering. We decided upon this topic because one of us is a computer science major, another is an engineering major, and the last is an engineering modified with computer science major. Jokes are prime examples of folklore that not only highlight what a certain folk group finds humorous, but also shed light on the shared experiences and common knowledge of that group. If a joke must be explained to make sense, it will be longer and less memorable than a short, pithy joke; as such, the jokes that survive draw on the common knowledge of the group to make often nuanced observations that are still brief enough to be funny. This reliance on common knowledge creates a bond within a folk group because understanding a joke unique to that group fosters a sense of group identity. This point is especially true for engineering and computer science-themed jokes that are somewhat exclusive because of their reliance on insider knowledge of these fields. Furthermore, jokes are naturally spread from person to person through their telling, but are not expressly taught. Hence, people within a folk group naturally pick up on jokes in their day-to-day lives without actively trying to learn or collect them, one of the defining features of folklore.

    While collecting computer science and engineering folklore, we noticed some interesting trends. FIrst, jokes tended to be fall into one of two types. One type consisted of creative uses of terms or symbols that mean something different to engineers and computer scientists than they do to the average person to create puns. The other type relied upon hyperbole to mock certain behaviors or faults of groups or subgroups within the fields of computer science and engineering. Another interesting trend that is particularly persistent in computer science jokes that involve puns is that many work either poorly or not at all when presented verbally as opposed to in written form. Coupled with the observation that computer scientists and engineers work by translating abstract logic and ideas into written “text,” which is often done collaboratively online through mediums like internet posts, texts, or emails, it’s no wonder that the internet has emerged as a thriving forum for the transmission of computer science and engineering folklore.


Items (20 total):

  1. Lightbulb
  2. COBOL
  3. Asking for a Raise
  4. Eye Doctor
  5. Toilet Break
  6. Engineers on a Plane
  7. Sick Chicken
  8. Elephant Volume
  9. Glass Half Full
  10. Golfing Engineer
  11. Use Pointers
  12. F1
  13. 10 Types of People
  14. Had a Byte
  15. If Eggs
  16. Halloween/Christmas
  17. Recursion
  18. !False
  19. Red Ball
  20. Driving Off the Cliff


  • Christina Long
  • Stephanie Guo
  • Robert Sylvia


  • Jokes. Computer Science. Engineering. Puns. Hyperbole.