(This question toes the line between belonging here and belonging on the Retrocomputing Stack Exchange.)

Here is the quote; sometimes the first sentence is omitted:

The most important thing in a programming language is the name. A language will not succeed without a good name. I have recently invented a very good name, and now I am looking for a suitable language.

It is always attributed to Donald Knuth. Some instances date it to 1967.

What is the original source? I can't find it anywhere. The earliest reference I can find online is in a manifest for a programming languages course from 2000. Even if the ultimate source is not a published document, but rather a statement in a conversation or in some other form that was not recorded, we should expect earlier references, especially if the quote really is from 1967.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I can commiserate: I love the "R" stats language, but that's a horrible name when it comes to 'net searches, disk searches, etc. $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2021 at 12:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ On Wikiquote, this has been relegated to "talk" and marked "unsourced" in 2009. en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Donald_Knuth $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2021 at 14:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft It's shocking how many languages have a 1-letter name, give or take punctuation searching software may also struggle with. $\endgroup$
    – J.G.
    Jun 3, 2021 at 17:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Here it is claimed that the quote is from a talk at UCLA: quora.com/… $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2021 at 22:06
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Chapter 11 of Knuth's Selected Papers on Computer Languages, which is an unfinished report from 1966, contains the statement "Finally, and perhaps most important of all, a good language should have an appropriate name that aptly characterizes its personality and mystique." $\endgroup$
    – texdr.aft
    Jun 12, 2021 at 16:13


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.