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I've come across many pages, articles and texts which say something like

  • When X does Y, God kills a kitten
  • When X happens, God kills an elephant

Like

  • here - God kills a pigeon
  • here - God kills a kitten

What does it exactly mean?

Does it mean that something great was achieved, so a sacrifice was made?

or

Does it mean that a particular action/event is bad and should be avoided?

4 Answers 4

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Neither of the meanings suggested in the question is quite right. The first (“something great was achieved, so a sacrifice was made”) probably isn't relevant. The second (“a particular action is bad and should be avoided”) is relevant, but wrong. The idea of the joke at the wikipedia link (“Every time you masturbate… God kills a kitten”) is to make fun of the notion that masturbation is so bad that it has grave consequences, in this case dismaying God so much that he or she goes and kills a kitten. In other words, the joke is not intended to imply that masturbation is bad; it's intended to ridicule the traditional perception of it as seriously bad.

The schneierfacts.com item (“Every time Bruce Schneier writes a fully general halt-checker, God kills a passenger pigeon. This is why passenger pigeons are extinct”) on the other hand is not a joke, but merely a humor-free attempt at one. That, or it is an in-joke understandable by some small clique. Anyhow, it's easy to prove there is no such thing as a fully general halt-checker, so obviously the writing of one has never resulted in God killing a passenger pigeon, hence Bruce Schneier writing a fully general halt-checker can have nothing to do with why passenger pigeons are extinct.

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  • 1
    Judging from the graphic, I think the Schneier Facts are meant to be a play on Chuck Norris Facts. Jun 10, 2013 at 18:52
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    @batpigandme, right. I think Chuck Norris Facts are more consistently funny (except some are repetitious, eg plane items). Many of the Bruce Schneier Facts are funny, but the halt-checker one is a flop. Jun 10, 2013 at 18:57
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    @TrevorD, an algorithm to report whether a program will halt. Per wikipedia's halting problem article, “Alan Turing proved in 1936 that a general algorithm to solve the halting problem for all possible program-input pairs cannot exist.” Jun 10, 2013 at 22:38
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    "When you masturbate, God kills a kitten" does not imply that "when you don't masturbate, God does not kill a kitten". :)
    – Kaz
    Jun 10, 2013 at 23:04
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    The Schneier fact is an in-joke comprehensible only to logicians. Writing a fully general halt checker is mathematically impossible. Therefore, “every time X writes a fully general halt checker” never happens, so the firstsentence does not imply that God ever kills passenger pigeons. Yet the second sentence implies that God does in fact often kill passenger pigeons. So we are led to rethink our assumptions and conclude that Bruce Schneier does in fact often perform the mathematically impossible task. Jun 10, 2013 at 23:48
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They're all variations of this Internet meme:

Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten.

According to Know Your Meme, the phrase originated with BarFly Magazine in 1999, but really rose to popularity on the Internet with the release of this poster from FARK.com:

enter image description here

The phrase is more of a joke than anything with real meaning.

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This expression follows a general form that implies a supernatural causal relationship between an action and a putative result, as a way to discourage the action. It is often employed humorously, poetically or whimsically.

A classic example would be in JM Barrie's Peter Pan:

"[...] every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead."

In modern usage, kittens dying seems to be the favourite threatened consequence, i.e.:

"Every time you [do that thing I disapprove of], a kitten dies."

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It is an idiom for "do not do it, it's generally frown upon and bad behavior".

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    Generally? No. Just by the speaker? Perhaps, though not even necessarily that, as the default connotation is quite clearly ironic.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jun 10, 2013 at 18:48
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    Well, generally in the given community
    – KamikazeCZ
    Jun 10, 2013 at 18:50
  • @RegDwighт +1 I believe the irony (especially in the second example given by OP) is that it takes to an extreme other if you do X then Y statements made to discourage behavior (e.g. If you masterbate you'll go blind)... Or maybe there is some kid out there who strongly believes in a god who runs around killing kittens. Jun 10, 2013 at 18:51
  • So Bruce Schneier writing a fully general halt-checker (first example in question) is bad behavior?
    – Kaz
    Jun 10, 2013 at 23:04
  • @Kaz: Phrases are sometimes freely abused for humorous purposes, on the assumption that the intended audience (however small) will recognize the mismatch between the phrase's usual meaning and its "abusage". That in itself doesn't change the meaning of the idiom.
    – LarsH
    Jun 11, 2013 at 13:27

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