On Profanity in Science

I came across a slightly old paper on Studying the Source Code of Scientific Research. The section on The Sacred and the Profane had me in fits. It reminded me of the less academic but equally hilarous analogue from software development: Commit Logs from Last Night.

Quoted below for memory:

In other cases however, it seems that profanity is used internally to reflect the author’s true feelings: there are examples where a particularly difficult example is given the (internal) label “bastard”; a macro for a complexity class is given the handle “crap”; and an initial theorem is labeled “bullshit” with an improvement provided.

One particular notable example is of the occurrence of “bollocks” (a British-English idiom with broadly negative connotation) which occurs over fifty times within a single paper. Closer inspection reveals that this is because the central theorem in the paper is given the label “dogs-bollocks” and referred to extensively throughout; this phrase is a (coarse) British-English idiom with a strongly positive connotation.

There are examples of profanity used in comments: the observation that “the \thanks layout looks crappy!”; the single word “bullshit” prefacing some technical text which has been commented out; and the comment “Who the fuck is —?” immediately after an acknowledgment to the named individual.

The rest of the paper is as enjoyable and illuminating; a rare combination, but coming from Muthukrishnan (depicted below on fire), possibly expected.

Muthukrishnan on fire