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For other uses, see RTFM (disambiguation).
Usage of "RTFM" in the 1979 LINPACK Users Guide

RTFM is an initialism for the expression "Read the fucking manual" (sometimes "flaming" or another metaphor or profanity) or, in the context of a Unix environment, "Read the fucking man page" (see man page).

The RTFM comment is given when someone has become cynical about the knowledge that people are requesting. It's a representation of anger that people neither read or understand a technical manual, but mostly that they don't care to do either.

In expurgated texts, substitutions such as "read the flaming manual", "read the fine manual" or "read the friendly manual" are used[1] (or similar variants). Initialisms similar to RTFM include STFW ("search the fucking web"), GIYF ("Google is your friend") and LMGTFY ("let me google that for you"). These indicate that the item under question can easily be researched on the World Wide Web.

Many alternative expansions for "RTFM" exist, as do many similarly-themed alternative initialisms.

Possible origins[edit]

The phrase RTFM appeared in print in 1979 on the Table of Contents page of the LINPACK Users' Guide[2] in the form "R.T.F.M." -- Anonymous, suggesting that it was already well established. Cleve Moler has since revealed that a visit to Argonne National Laboratory by Tektronix Software Manager Ned Thanhouser (grandson of Edwin Thanhouser) during the development of MATLAB led to the anonymous quote.[3]

John Bear's 1983 book Computer Wimp! 166 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Bought My First Computer! discusses the author hearing employees of a computer store mention RYFM ("Read Your F---- Manual").[4]

The phrase RTFM was in common use in the early 1950s by radio and radar technicians in the US armed forces. Operators frequently did not check simple faults; for example, checking whether a fuse had blown or a power plug had become disconnected. A common query would be, "Did you check the oh en oh ef ef switch (On/Off)."[citation needed]

List of similar initialisms[edit]

Encouraging the reading of the manual or other background information[edit]

  • RTBM ("read the bloody manual") (In some countries, e.g., the UK and Australia, this is a fractionally more polite alternative with identical meaning[5])
  • RTFA ("read the fucking/featured article"—common on news forums such as Fark.com[6] and Slashdot, where using "TFA" instead of "the article" has become a meme)

Retorts for the initialisms above[edit]

  • WABM ("write a better manual" – an answer complaining that the manual is not written well)[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Howard, Michael, David LeBlanc, and John Viega. 19 Deadly Sins of Software Security: Programming Flaws and How to Fix Them. New York: McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2005. ISBN 0-07-226085-8.
  2. ^ Dongarra, J. J., C. B. Moler, J. R. Bunch, and G. W. Stewart. LINPACK User's Guide. Philadelphia: SIAM, 1979. ISBN 0-89871-172-X.
  3. ^ Moler, Cleve. "The Tektronix 4081". Cleve's Corner. MathWorks Blogs. Retrieved 2014-02-17. 
  4. ^ Sperberg, Luther (1984-04-03). "Don't Be a Computer Wimp". PC Magazine. p. 261. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "RTBM definition". foldoc.com. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  6. ^ "Routine traffic stop has man up in arms. Er, caught red-handed. Er, never mind, just RTFA". Fark.com. 2008-11-28. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  7. ^ "RTFM is a four-letter word". Software Sustainability Institute. Retrieved 2 December 2013.