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In computer science and related disciplines, considered harmful is a phrase popularly used in the titles of diatribes and other critical essays (there are at least 65 such works[1]). It was popularized by Edsger Dijkstra's letter Go To Statement Considered Harmful,[2] published in the March 1968 Communications of the ACM (CACM), in which he criticized the excessive use of the GOTO statement in programming languages of the day and advocated structured programming instead.[3] The original title of the letter, as submitted to CACM, was A Case Against the Goto Statement, but CACM editor Niklaus Wirth changed the title to the now immortalized Go To Statement Considered Harmful.[4]

Frank Rubin published a criticism of Dijkstra's letter in the March 1987 CACM where it appeared under the title 'GOTO Considered Harmful' Considered Harmful[5]. The May 1987 CACM printed further replies, both for and against, under the title '"GOTO Considered Harmful" Considered Harmful' Considered Harmful?[6]. Dijkstra's own response to this controversy was titled On a somewhat disappointing correspondence.[7]

According to linguist Mark Liberman, considered harmful was a journalistic cliché, used in headlines, well before the Dijkstra article. He cites the headline over a letter published August 12, 1949 in The New York Times: "Rent Control Controversy / Enacting Now of Hasty Legislation Considered Harmful".[8]



Some variants with replacement adjectives (considered silly, etc.) have been noted in hacker jargon.[9][10] Many variants dealt with computer-related issues, such as "'Reply-To' Munging Considered Harmful"[11], "XMLHttpRequest Considered Harmful"[12], "Csh Programming Considered Harmful"[13] and "Geek Culture Considered Harmful to Perl".[14] Web design consultant Eric A. Meyer focused upon the letter, itself: "Considered Harmful Essays Considered Harmful".[15]

Related essays

See also


  1. ^ "Miscellaneous - Considered Harmful". Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  2. ^ Edsger Dijkstra (March 1968). "Go To Statement Considered Harmful" (PDF). Communications of the ACM 11 (3): 147–148. doi:10.1145/362929.362947. "The unbridled use of the go to statement has as an immediate consequence that it becomes terribly hard to find a meaningful set of coordinates in which to describe the process progress. ... The go to statement as it stands is just too primitive, it is too much an invitation to make a mess of one's program.". 
  3. ^ David R. Tribble (February 2005). "Go To Statement Considered Harmful: A Retrospective". 
  4. ^ Edsger Dijkstra (June 2001). "What led to "Notes on Structured Programming"". 
  5. ^ Frank Rubin (March 1987). ""GOTO Considered Harmful" Considered Harmful" (PDF). Communications of the ACM 30 (3): 195–196. doi:10.1145/214748.315722. 
  6. ^ Donald Moore, Chuck Musciano, Michael J. Liebhaber, Steven F. Lott and Lee Starr (May 1987). "" 'GOTO Considered Harmful' Considered Harmful" Considered Harmful?" (PDF). Communications of the ACM 30 (5): 351–355. 
  7. ^ Edsger Dijkstra (May 1987). "On a somewhat disappointing correspondence". 
  8. ^ "Language Log: Considered harmful". April 8, 2008. Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  9. ^ Eric S. Raymond et al. (December 29, 2003). "considered harmful". The Jargon File. Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  10. ^ Steve Yegge (October 21, 2009). "considered stupid". 
  11. ^ Rosenthal, Chip (November 14, 2002). ""Reply-To" Munging Considered Harmful". Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  12. ^ Levitt, Jason (November 9, 2005). "XMLHttpRequest Considered Harmful". Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  13. ^ Christiansen, Tom (October 6, 1996). "Csh Programming Considered Harmful". Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Geek Culture Considered Harmful to Perl". August 19, 2008. Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  15. ^ Eric A. Meyer. ""Considered harmful essays considered harmful"". 


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