"f u cn rd ths u mst uz unix"
-- unknown.

In the book, "The UNIX Programming Enviroment" dating back as far as to 1984, I came across a rather interesting text. On pages 78 and 79 there is a short story entitled 'The UNIX and the Echo' that discusses the topic on what the UNIX command echo should do if given no argument. Should it print a blank line, or nothing at all? According to the book, this was once a question of great debate, and, citing the book, "Doug McIlroy, imparted the right feelings of mysticism in his discussion of the topic". Brethren, what you are about to read is what is called UNIX history! Behold:

The UNIX and the Echo.

There dwelt in the land of New Jersey the UNIX, a fair maid whom savants traveled far to admire. Dazzled by her purity, all sought to espouse her, one for her virginal grace, another polished civility, yet another for her agility in performing exacting tasks seldom accomplished even in much richer lands. So large of heart and accomodating of nature was she that the UNIX adopted all but the unsufferably rich of her suitors. Soon many offspring grew and prospered and spread to the ends of the earth.

Nature herself smiled and answered to the UNIX more eagerly than to other mortal beings. Humbler folk, who knew little of more courtly manners, delighted in her echo, so precise and crystal clear they scarce believed she could be answered by the same rocks and woods that so garbled their own shouts into the wilderness. And the compliant UNiX obliged with perfect echoes of what ever she was asked. When one impatient swain asked the UNIX, 'Echo nothing', the UNIX obligingly opened her mouth, echoed nothing, and closed it again.

'Whatever do you mean,' the youth demanded, 'opening your mouth like that? Henceforth never open your mouth when you are supposed to echo nothing!' And the UNIX obliged.

'But I want a perfect performance, even when you echo nothing,' pleaded a sensitive youth, 'and no echoes can come from a closed mouth.' Not wishing to offend either one, the UNIX agreed to say different nothings for the impatient youth and the sensitive youth. She called the sensitive nothing '\n.'

Yet now when she said '\n,'she was really not saying nothing so she had to open her mouth twice, once to say '\n,' and once to say nothing, and so she did not please the sensitive youth, who said forthwith, 'The \n sounds like a perfect nothing to me, but the second ruins it. I want you to take back one of them.' So the UNiX, who could not abide offending, agreed to undo some echoes and called that '\c'. Now the sensitive youth could hear a perfect echo of nothing by asking for '\n' and '\c' together.

But they say that he died of a surfeit of notation before he ever heard one.

-- Doug McIlroy