Woah There, Tarantino: Cut That Profanity from Your Code

If you’ve ever coded software, you know it can sometimes transform into an exercise in almost transcendent frustration. Working within a team can make things even worse, especially if there are strong personalities involved. That’s just life in tech: some days are great, and others make you want to take up a less-stressful career, such as fighter pilot or ER surgeon.

Given those stressors, it’s natural for developers to blow off a bit of steam. Sometimes they choose to do so in the comments of whatever they’re programming. And why not? It’s not like anyone will ever read that commentary, except for members of their team. Right?

But code does leak. For example, someone recently posted the leaked source code for the Snapchat app on GitHub. (Snapchat responded with an ALL CAPS takedown request, as you might expect.) As Matthew Hughes pointed out, over at The Next Web, Snapchat’s code is remarkably profanity-free, especially compared to early versions of Microsoft Word and MS-DOS, where developers writing things like “…the other registers are free to [expletive] with” was a relatively common occurrence.

Take a quick search through GitHub, and you’ll find thousands of commits that feature words you can’t ever say on network television. Over the past few years, some developers have even taken the time to visualize the use of profanity in the most popular programming languages.

If you’re programming alone, with no intention of open-sourcing whatever you’re working on, you can curse-in-comments to your heart’s content. As part of a company, however, things change a bit: you never know if someone will eventually release your work to GitHub or another repository. Could those early developers at Microsoft have predicted that, decades later, their code would be dumped—profanity and all—into the open?

And even if you, the frustrated coder, are totally fine with peppering your code with enough profanity to make Quentin Tarantino blush like a nun, your coworkers may take a dim view of such a practice. Cursing can definitely cause some friction with the team. Just take a look at this anonymous story submitted to StackExchange:

“At one company, a foreign-language-speaking individual joined a predominantly english-speaking team. He wrote comments in his language, thinking that nobody else could read them. This was fine, until Babelfish/Google Translate released a ‘to English’ option for his language, at which point the rest of the team translated a few comments and were appalled at the filthy and often derogatory comments the guy had been making about the company, his team and a female coworker. Awkward.”

Not all software is open-sourced, of course, but management and customers can sometimes get a glimpse of your code during presentations or demos. If you’ve laced it with some, er, colorful commentary, you might have a problem. All the more reason to keep things as clean as possible, no matter how frustrated you might become over your work.


2 Responses to “Woah There, Tarantino: Cut That Profanity from Your Code”

  1. William Shipley

    My fifth grade teacher once intercepted a note between two girls and, to their embarrassment, posted it on the bulletin board. She told the class: “Never put anything in writing you don’t want posted to the bulletin board”.

    Words to live by.