Computer Science Taboo

Within computer science there are a few phrases that are considered taboo. For example, “this class is easy”, “how bad can the midterm really be”, “Oh my god it works, it really works”, or “it’s all downhill from here”. These taboo phrases probably extend to most majors and life in general. I collected these phrases from a computer science major so the motivation behind the phrases is specific to this major. My friend from whom I collected the phrases informed me that when these phrases are spoken they cast some sort of spell that makes the worst possible thing happen. She told me a story about the time she questioned the difficulty of a midterm. She said, “So I had to take this midterm the next day. I had been studying for a while and felt pretty confident with the material. I was talking to a friend in the class and we were discussing how to study for the midterm and what we needed to study. We both felt rather confident about the material. My friend then uttered the unspeakable phrase, ‘I mean how bad could the midterm really be since we have studied for it.” I immediately responded with ‘Dear god don’t say that. You will make the midterm worse.’ While I know that saying this phrase doesn’t actually change how the professor creates the midterm. But it always seems to make the midterm feel worse when the phrase is uttered just beforehand. My friend did end up doing worse on the midterm than I did. Which just adds credibility to the superstition.” I know that I have often misjudged the difficulty of a midterm. I think that the “truth” behind this taboo phrase is that once uttered the motivation and quality of studying goes down. Once I feel confident about a test I don’t study as hard for it. Over studying is always better than not studying enough. In order to keep the motivation to study for a tough exam one should not utter this phrase or gain too much confidence before the exam.

My friend is a computer science major. As part of the computer science community she collects and forwards a myriad of folklore specific to this unique group. Computer science folklore is unique and reflects the beliefs and the culture of the group. Per my informant, as well as personal experience, computer science majors have a unique sense of humor that develops from the difficult coursework, the long hours spent on the computer coding, and the group dynamic required to get through the major. This humor is often expressed through memes and jokes only members of this group can understand and appreciate.