Attack of the one-letter programming languages

From D to R, these lesser-known languages tackle specific problems in ways worthy of a cult following

Attack of the One-Letter Programming Languages
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Watch out! The coder in the next cubicle has been bitten and infected with a crazy-eyed obsession with a programming language that is not Java and goes by the mysterious name of F. The conference room has become a house of horrors, thanks to command-line zombies likely to ambush you into rewriting the entire stack in M or R or maybe even -- OMG -- K. Be very careful; your coworkers might be among them, calm on the outside but waiting for the right time and secret instructions from the mothership to trash the old code and deploy F# or J.

A long time ago -- long before Netflix, Hulu, and HBO battled for the living room -- people went to the movie theaters for their weekly dose of video streaming. There were usually only two movies, and you couldn't choose the order. (The horror!) The double feature began with the big stars -- the Javas and JavaScripts of the acting world -- but then it got interesting. The second feature, the so-called B movie, was where the new ideas, odder actors, and weirder scripts found their home. Some proved rich enough with exactly the right kind of out-there thinking to garner significant cult followings -- even break through to the mainstream.

The programming languages with one-letter names are one such corner of the Internet. They're all a bit out there, with the possible exception of C -- a language that once received top billing but is now lucky to be opening for the printer-driver convention.

They may not be for every job -- many are aimed at specialized tasks -- but that doesn’t mean these one-letter languages comprise a gallery of misfits. Each offers compelling ideas that could do the trick in solving a particular problem you need fixed. These languages all embody the crisp, simple nature of their names. K?

One-letter programming language: C

Long ago, when Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie, aka K&R, set out to write Unix, their plan was to use B, an internal language at AT&T. But B couldn't address individual bytes, which was a big deal because the fancy new PDP-11 came with the immense-for-the-time 16-bit words. K&R added more bit-banging features to create C, which quickly became popular as it was the lingua franca for Unix. The language grew as it added object-oriented features to become C++. Apple adopted another variant called Objective-C, which it is now starting to get out from under with the introduction of Swift, if only a little.

Of course, programming is a lot different now than it was in the early days of Unix. There are so many bits and bytes that the programmers can't keep the pointers straight. Thus, most of the serious work these days uses languages that take all the power out of the hands of the coders. C lives on, though, in the hearts and minds of those who still need to tweak the bits and bytes of the lowest levels of the operating systems and boot loaders. If you're writing a printer driver or fiddling with the context-switching of the kernel, it's still a big star.

While certainly not the first one-letter programming language, C has become somewhat of a granddaddy of the one-letter programming language naming tradition, given its far-reaching popularity. Consider it the B-movie crossover cult classic that became a mainstream hit.

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