is Ben Rudgers

Remarks: Epigram 10

This is part of a writing exercise around Alan Perlis‘s Epigrams in Programming.

Get into a rut early: Do the same process the same way. Accumulate idioms. Standardize. The only difference (!) between Shakespeare and you was the size of his idiom list – not the size of his vocabulary.

  Aye Whores! Aye Whores! My kingdom for the whores![1]

Prostitutes plied their trade among the gin drinking garlic sucking rabble in the pit of the Globe – their solicitations undoubtedly approaching climax in Act V, Scene IV just prior to the gore of Richard III‘s death. Shakespeare managed state better than me, too.

Five acts for Julius Caesar. Five for The Taming of the Shrew. Poems in 14 lines. That’s standardization.

When he needed to convey a particular idea with a particular rhythm, he sought out English words, when he couldn’t find an English word he did pluck one from French, Russian, or Finnish – he created a new English word.

There is no Ook! sonnet. Idioms are different from the sum of their parts. Some provided advantages. Others are detrimental. Thus efforts to avoid spaghetti code – usually. Sometimes it is a reasonable trade-off all things considered. Idioms are measured against a combination of procedures and data structures and real world concerns.

A function which treats a tree like a tree is not idiomatic. A function which treats a list like a tree can be a useful idiom because we recognize the tradeoffs. Shakespeare could use plays within a play because his audience was sophisticated enough to get the point. They didn’t go home [with a prostitute?] when Hamlet’s play [Shakespeare’s idiom] ends in chaos.

Meanings are not just out their floating about in the world. The idiom of the theater is used to communicate mental states of one character to another – Shakespeare also understood recursion.


[1] Among my many first semesters back in school, I took a class from the Shakespearian scholar Sid Homan. I made a C+. I was even worse as a writer then than I am today. But I learned a lot. I’ve taken some artistic license with my memory of his lectures.