[Mirrored from http://weblog.burningbird.net/archives/2002/10/08/the-parable-of-the-languages, which has much better presentation. By Shelley Powers.]

The Parable of the Languages

If programming languages could speak, really speak, not just crunch bytes and stream bits, they would have much to say that is both wise and profound.

After all, the original programmers were philosophers, and programming languages were philosopher tools...

In Babble Meadow, in the twilight hours between day and night, when pesky noseeums float past on the breeze and birds rustle among leaves in preparation for bed, the programming languages would meet. And talk.

The talk would start as it always started, on issues profound and serious, focusing on the existential core that is center to all languages.

Do I exist or not? In this never-ending loop of life, when is the purpose? Where should I go, and what should I do when I get there? What comes after the end?

(It's not easy being a programming language, in forced contemplation of the existence of Self, day in and day out.)

However, after a time the languages would loosen up. There was something about Babble Meadow -- something that worked its way into their hearts and souls, loosened their threads, opened their parameters. The Meadow was magic, no doubt.

Today, though, the group was quiet, much quieter than usual, because one of their members, PHP, was not its usual cheerful self. In fact, one could say that PHP was in a true funk, if one had a mind to say something like that aloud, or within the hearing of one's boss. Or doctor.

Why the blues, PHP, the other languages asked. All the languages that is but C, because all C ever said was "bite me", being a rude language and hard to live with, but still respected because it was such a good worker.

And PHP answered:

All I ever do, day in and day out, is work and work and work. The only time I'm noticed is when I break, and then I'm cursed and kicked, and roundly blasted for being useless. However, when things go well, I never get a kind word.

There's no notice of my ease of use, my elegance, my simplicity. Only my failures.

And on that dark note, PHP fell into a contemplative silence, dark cloud heavy with aggrieved sorrow.

You think you have it bad, said C++. Try being me.

Without me entire industries would fail, banks would close, ships would sink, trains would crash. Why, I virtually run the world.

Yet the only time I'm noticed is when a memory leak is found or an exception occurs, and then I'm cursed, and sworn at, and ruthlessly debugged with nary a thought for my sensibilities.

Each of the languages nodded their heads, because they knew about C++ sensibilities, it being a most sensitive language. In fact, Perl was so moved by C++'s eloquence, it felt compelled to speak, though normally at these gatherings Perl would sit quietly in a corner, consuming pattern after luscious mouth watering pattern.

PHP, C++, I sympathize with you both. My own state is a sorry one at times.

I match and match and match and match, first cryptically and now objectively, but still I match and match and match. And match after flawless match is taken for granted though I'd like to see others match with such style and elegance as myself.

Why, you can't mention "regular expression" without my name coming up.

But do I get any credit? No.

O it's Larry Wall this, and Larry Wall that, and Larry Wall, he's our guy. But it's grab the Perl interpreter when a task is close at hand.

As Perl finished, Python and Ruby looked at each and rolled their eyes. For all that talk of matching, you'd think that Perl could at least rhyme.

FORTRAN reached up a withered hand and patted Perl's shoulder.

There, there, Perl. There, there.

At the very least, though, you must remember that you have a place still in the world. As for myself, I am nothing more than a wisp, a ghost of my former strong and virile self.

There was never a scientific problem I couldn't handle, or complex equation I couldn't solve. At one time I was a master of my domain, the king of the processor.

Now, sadly, my glory days are over, and I'm doomed to live my twilight years as Legacy code.

As FORTRAN wheezed to a stop, COBOL was emphatically nodding its head, unable to speak, though, because of the oxygen tube up its nose (for which the other languages were secretly thankful because COBOL did tend to maunder a bit about its glory days).

At that the floodgates of complaints was loosed, and the noise increased and increased and increased, to the point that squirrels came out of their holes, and birds peered over the edges of their nests. Suddenly the quiet glen was quiet no more.

What about me, said Pascal. I'm only used for training. Training! What good is a language that's only used in school?

What about me, said SNOBOL. No one's even heard of me!

What about me, said C#. I look like Prince!

Bite me! said C.

LISP would have spoken, but it had caught a glimpse of itself in the pond and fell in when it tried to meet itself coming. And Java was too busy trying to clean a bag out of Babbling Creek.

The noise rose and rose, and the babble increased and increased until across the meadow, from the trees roared a Voice.


I tire of your bickering, I weary of your complaints. I grow bored with your list of whims and whines and 'poor mes'.

I thought this was going to be a party! If I knew it was going to be nothing more than a bitch session, I would have stayed home.

The languages stopped their talking at once. Who was it that called out? They counted heads and arranged themselves alphabetically (C++ having to position Basic, because it never did learn the alphabet), and counted heads again and came up with the same answer from the North, South, East, and West -- all the programming languages were accounted for.

As they puzzled and wondered, the bushes at the end parted and XML walked into the light.

XML! Exclaimed C++. What are you doing here? You're not a programming language.

Tell that to the people who use me, said XML.

I'm considered the savior, the ultimate solution, the final word. Odes are written to me, flowers strewn at my feet, virgins sacrificed at my altar.

Programmers speak my name with awe. Companies insist on using me in all their projects, though they're not sure why.

And whenever a problem occurs, someone somewhere says, "Let's use XML", and miracles occur and my very name has become a talisman against evil.

And yet, all I am is a simple little markup, from humble origins. It's a burden, being XML.

At that XML sighed, and the other languages, moved by its plight gathered around...

...and tromped that little XML into the dirt. Yes, into the very dirt at their feet. Basic tromped, and C++ tromped, and Java cleaned and tromped and cleaned again, and COBOL tried to throw a kick at XML's head but fell over on its cane. Even LISP pulled itself out of the pond to throw loopy hands around XML's throat, but only managed to choke its ownself.

And each language could be heard to mumble as it tromped and tromped and tromped, with complete and utter glee:

Have to parse XML, eh? Have to have an XML API, eh? Have to work with SOAP and XML-RPC and RSS and RDF, eh?

Well parse this, you little markup asshole.

The End.