Programmer Folklore (Jokes, Riddles)


People rarely associate computer science with folklore. Indeed, one of the pioneers of folkloristics, Alan Dundes, even asserted that as society evolved into its most civilized state, folklore would gradually disappear and be replaced by hard science.

However, our collection proves that the two can always coexist. Despite the field’s nascency, computer science has already developed a rich culture due to the proliferation of myths, jokes, rituals, and superstitions.

Our collection includes interviews from nineteen different members of the Dartmouth community: two professors and seventeen computer science majors. Although all interviewees are pursuing or have received STEM degrees from liberal arts college institutions, they do come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, representing countries around the world.

From this diverse pool, we received thirteen jokes, three myths, and a few sayings and examples of customary folklore. During our collection process, we noticed three major motifs. First, much of the folklore dealt with common stereotypes of computer programmers. Second, the folklore– and especially those that embraced the stereotypes– was often used to foster a sense of community, whether among programmers as a whole, or within smaller sub-groups. And third, there existed folklore that attempted to rationalize certain programmer practices, even if a wholly logical explanation was impossible.

Thus, we concluded that the above uses of computer science folklore– differentiating the “in-group” of programmers from non-programmers, unifying the community, and accounting for traditions– are reasons why such a deeply-entrenched culture has sprung up around such a new field. Clearly, folklore will remain a part of human society at every stage of civilization.




Robin Zeng, James Edwards, Michael Li, Ketav Patel, Agastya Gupta, Kevin Chao


computer science, programmers, computer programmers, jokes