structured programming language

For a programming language with a half-century legacy, FORTRAN not surprisingly has accumulated its share of jokes and folklore.



  • As I said in my comments to the committee, [Fortran 90' would be a] nice language, too bad it's not Fortran.
  • In the good old days physicists repeated each other's experiments, just to be sure. Today they stick to FORTRAN, so that they can share each other's programs, bugs included.
    • Edsger W. Dijkstra, "How do we tell truths that might hurt?" (1975) EWD498. Published in ACM SIGPLAN Notices 17:5 (May 1982), pp. 13–15.
  • FORTRAN—the "infantile disorder"—, by now nearly 20 years old, is hopelessly inadequate for whatever computer application you have in mind today: it is now too clumsy, too risky, and too expensive to use.
  • People are very flexible and learn to adjust to strange surroundings — they can become accustomed to read Lisp and Fortran programs, for example.
    • Leon Sterling and Ehud Shapiro, Art of PROLOG, MIT Press.


  • The primary purpose of the DATA statement is to give names to constants; instead of referring to pi as 3.141592653589793 at every appearance, the variable PI can be given that value with a DATA statement and used instead of the longer form of the constant. This also simplifies modifying the program, should the value of pi change.
  • Consistently separating words by spaces became a general custom about the tenth century A.D., and lasted until about 1957, when FORTRAN abandoned the practice.
    • Sun FORTRAN Reference Manual.
  • Warning: Go directly to Jail. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.
  • "A computer without COBOL and FORTRAN is like a piece of chocolate cake without ketchup or mustard." — a fortune cookie from the Unix program fortune.

References in popular cultureEdit

  • In the pilot episode of the Futurama series, the robot Bender drinks a bottle of Olde FORTRAN Malt Liquor (alluding to "Olde English" malt liquor)
  • Computer folklore has incorrectly attributed the loss of the Mariner 1 space probe to a syntax error in a Fortran program. For example, "Recall the first American space probe to Venus, reportedly lost because Fortran cannot recognize a missing comma in a DO statement…"(Hoare, C. A. R.. Hints on Programming Language Design.  in Sigact/Sigplan Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages. October 1973. , reprinted in Horowitz. Programming Languages, A Grand Tour, 3rd ed. ). See Risks Digest: Mariner 1, Vol. 9: Iss. 54, 12 Dec 89 (and Risks Digest: "Mariner I -- no holds BARred", Vol. 8: Iss. 75) for what really happened.
  • In 1982, 10,000 Maniacs released a song named "Planned Obsolescence" that includes the repeated line — "Science [is] truth for life, in Fortran tongue the answer".

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