Hello World: An Instance Of Rhetoric in Computer Science

Hello World: An Instance Of Rhetoric in Computer Science
John Mount: jmount@mzlabs.com

February 19, 2008

Computer scientists have usually dodged questions of intent, purpose or meaning. While there are theories that assign deep mathematical meaning to computer programs[13] we computer scientists usually avoid discussion of meaning and talk more about utility and benefit. Discussions of the rhetorical meaning of programs is even less common. However, there is a famous computer program that has a clean an important rhetorical point. This program is called “hello world” and its entire action is to write out the phrase “hello world.” The action is simple but the “hello world” program actually has a fairly significant purpose and meaning.

I would like to briefly trace the known history of “hello world” and show how the rhetorical message it presents differs from the rhetoric embodied in earlier programs. In this sense we can trace a change in the message computer scientists felt they needed to communicate (most likely due to changes in the outside world).

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