The Naming Of Nickle
Keith Packard's original calculator language of 15 years ago
was called "ic", for "interpreted C", based on his earlier
"ec" inline compiler and runtime for arbitrary-precision
rationals integrable with C code. At some point, the
language name was upgraded to "Nick" (whether for "New IC of
Keith's" or just because he liked the name, we cannot
That name was retained throughout our ongoing work, until
our upcoming first public release. At that point, we
decided we needed a name which was more descriptive of the
nature of the current language. Nickle is designed to
support one more major upgrade (to handle parametric type
inference). The name nickle, for "nick <=", was chosen
partly to denote this state.
In addition (in no particular order), we note that:
The progression to longer names built around the same
core is inline with the evolution of program naming in
UNIX generally. ic -> nick -> nickle is two characters
per iteration, which we believe to be about right.
There is a weak tradition of "materials based" names
for scripting languages, most notably the "PERL" family
of languages and successors like "Ruby".
There is a tradition of "materials-man" standards draft
names as well. Our language standard is currently much more
than a "strawman," but a little less than an "iron man":
"nickle man" appears to be about right.
The term "nickle" (with this spelling) was apparently
a common abbreviation among the Mattel Intellivision processor
team for a 5-bit field. (The term may have a longer and
broader history.) We figure the language is worth about
5 bits (i.e. $0.625 US), and are amused to note that this
cannot be accurately represented to two decimal places.
(Thanks to Dan Flynn for the correction.)
The word "nickle" probably actually originates from the
Germanic name "Nicholas", i.e. "Nick", as a short form of
the German "Kupfernickel" or "copper demon", for the
deceptive copper color of nickle ore. (Note that this is
also the origin of the term "Old Nick" to denote the
Christian Satan. Sources tell us that the cute little BSD
daemon is named "Chuck". We think "Nick" would be a better
Recall the famous joke about little-language designer
Nickle's Worth. ("Europeans call him by name, but Americans
call him by value.") Niklaus Wirth was easily the single
biggest influence on my development of interest in and
understanding of programming languages and language design.
Several programming language researchers are named
"Nickle" or "Nickel". Hopefully, they will feel flattered
Remember the famous Dilbertian "condescending UNIX
computer user" from Scott Adams' "Computer Holy Wars"
series? "Here's a nickle, kid: buy yourself a better
Finally, a note about the spelling. "Nickel" appears to be
the preferred spelling for both the metal and the
U.S. coin. The New American Heritage Dictionary does not
allow the variant "nickle", although the Merriam Webster
Collegiate Dictionary does. A Google search reveals a vast
predominance of the former spelling over the latter.
However, for a variety of reasons, some noted above, we have
chosen the more problematic variant. As the old gag goes,
you can call it anything you like. Just call it.
Copyright © 1988-2002 Keith Packard and Bart Massey.
All Rights Reserved. See the file COPYING in this directory
for licensing information.