Creators Admit C, Unix Were Hoax

A collegue of mine pointed to me today a chapter from a book called “The UNIX-HATERS Handbook”, published by IDG Books Worldwide Inc. in 1994 (ISBN 1-56884-203-1). One of the latest chapters is called “Creators Admit C, Unix Were Hoax”. In this chapter the authors say that Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan addmited that the C language and the UNIX operating system was an ellaborate April Fool’s prank that had a success far beyond what they imagined. Alledegly, Thompson declared at a UnixWorld Software Developer Forum that

In 1969, AT&T had just terminated their work with the GE/AT&T Multics project. Brian and I had just started working with an early release of Pascal from Professor Nichlaus Wirth’s ETH labs in Switzerland, and we were impressed with its elegant simplicity and power. Dennis had just finished reading Bored of the Rings, a hilarious National Lampoon parody of the great Tolkien Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a lark, we decided to do parodies of the Multics environment and Pascal. Dennis and I were responsible for the operating environment. We looked at Multics and designed the new system to be as complex and cryptic as possible to maximize casual users’ frustration levels, calling it Unix as a parody of Multics, as well as other more risque allusions.Then Dennis and Brian worked on a truly warped version of Pascal, called “A.” When we found others were actually trying to create real 308 Creators Admit C, Unix Were Hoax programs with A, we quickly added additional cryptic features and evolved into B, BCPL, and finally C. We stopped when we got a clean compile on the following syntax:


To think that modern programmers would try to use a language that allowed such a statement was beyond our comprehension! We actually thought of selling this to the Soviets to set their computer science progress back 20 or more years. Imagine our surprise when AT&T and other U.S. corporations actually began trying to use Unix and C! It has taken them 20 years to develop enough expertise to generate even marginally useful applications using this 1960s technological parody, but we are impressed with the tenacity (if not common sense) of the general Unix and C programmer.In any event, Brian, Dennis, and I have been working exclusively in Lisp on the Apple Macintosh for the past few years and feel really guilty about the chaos, confusion, and truly bad programming that has resulted from our silly prank so long ago.

It’s so hillarious. Unfortunatelly, just another April Fool’s hoax itself.

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