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DWIM

25 settembre 2003

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Sometimes being reminded of one’s ignorance is not only instructive, but funny too. In a recent message on the armedbear-j-devel mailing list in reply to a non-bug I recently submitted, Peter Graves (the J developer) used an acronym I never saw before, DWIM (Paste would retain its current DWIMish behavior…).

After replying to the message, I made a quick search on DWIMI expecting to find a reference to some arcane editor of days past, but what I found was something completely different, rooted in the world of LISP gurus

/dwim/ [acronym, "Do What I Mean" (not what I say)]

  1. Able to guess, sometimes even correctly, the result intended when bogus input was provided.
  2. The BBNLISP/INTERLISP function that attempted to accomplish this feat by correcting many of the more common errors. See hairy.
  3. Occasionally, an interjection hurled at a balky computer, especially when one senses one might be tripping over legalisms (see legalese).

Foldoc goes on to relate a notorious incident involving DWIM, which is worth reading

Warren Teitelman originally wrote DWIM to fix his typos and spelling errors, so it was somewhat idiosyncratic to his style, and would often make hash of anyone else’s typos if they were stylistically different. Some victims of DWIM thus claimed that the acronym stood for “Damn Warren’s Infernal Machine!’.

In one notorious incident, Warren added a DWIM feature to the command interpreter used at Xerox PARC. One day another hacker there typed “delete *$” to free up some disk space. (The editor there named backup files by appending “$” to the original file name, so he was trying to delete any backup files left over from old editing sessions.) It happened that there weren’t any editor backup files, so DWIM helpfully reported “*$ not found, assuming you meant ‘delete *’”. It then started to delete all the files on the disk! The hacker managed to stop it with a Vulcan nerve pinch after only a half dozen or so files were lost.

The disgruntled victim later said he had been sorely tempted to go to Warren’s office, tie Warren down in his chair in front of his workstation, and then type “delete *$” twice.

Sometimes it pays to be ignorant…..