Considered harmful

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"Achievements considered harmful?" presentation at the 2010 Game Developers Conference

Considered harmful is a part of a phrasal template used in the titles of at least 65 critical essays in computer science and related disciplines.[1] Its use in this context originated in 1968 with Edsger Dijkstra's letter "Go To Statement Considered Harmful".


Considered harmful was popularized by Edsger Dijkstra's letter "Go To Statement Considered Harmful",[2][3] 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.[4] 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 "Go To Statement Considered Harmful".[5] Regarding this new title, Donald Knuth quipped that "Dr. Goto cheerfully complained that he was always being eliminated."[6]

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".[7] The May 1987 CACM printed further replies, both for and against, under the title "'"GOTO Considered Harmful" Considered Harmful' Considered Harmful?".[8] Dijkstra's own response to this controversy was titled On a Somewhat Disappointing Correspondence.[9]

Considered harmful was already a journalistic cliché used in headlines, well before the Dijkstra article, as in, for example, the headline over a letter published in 1949 in The New York Times: "Rent Control Controversy / Enacting Now of Hasty Legislation Considered Harmful".[10]

Related essays[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Miscellaneous - Considered Harmful". Archived from the original on 2009-05-03. Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  2. ^ Edsger Dijkstra (March 1968). "Go To Statement Considered Harmful". Communications of the ACM (PDF). 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. ^ Dijkstra, Edsger W. EWD-215 (PDF). E.W. Dijkstra Archive. Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.  (transcription)
  4. ^ David R. Tribble (February 2005). "Go To Statement Considered Harmful: A Retrospective". 
  5. ^ Dijkstra, Edsger W. What led to "Notes on Structured Programming" (EWD-1308) (PDF). E.W. Dijkstra Archive. Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.  (transcription) (June, 2001)
  6. ^ Kanada, Yasumasa (2005), "Events and Sightings: An obituary of Eiichi Goto", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 27 (3): 92, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2005.37 
  7. ^ Frank Rubin (March 1987). ""GOTO Considered Harmful" Considered Harmful" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 30 (3): 195–196. doi:10.1145/214748.315722. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 20, 2009. 
  8. ^ Donald Moore; Chuck Musciano; Michael J. Liebhaber; Steven F. Lott; Lee Starr (May 1987). "" 'GOTO Considered Harmful' Considered Harmful" Considered Harmful?" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 30 (5): 351–355. doi:10.1145/22899.315729. 
  9. ^ Dijkstra, Edsger W. On a Somewhat Disappointing Correspondence (EWD-1009) (PDF). E.W. Dijkstra Archive. Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.  (transcription) (May, 1987)
  10. ^ Mark Liberman (April 8, 2008). "Language Log: Considered harmful". Retrieved August 17, 2009. 

External links[edit]