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In teaching computer science, I often want to mention certain beliefs that would normally be described as "macho", such as "Strong types are for weak minds" (translation: only lousy programmers need a compiler that catches mistakes for them) or "Real programmer use assembly language". You can see that attitude in these cartoons:

UserFriendly

I assume this inspired the following:

xkcd cartoon

How would you describe these programmers other than "macho"? The closest terms I can think of are "tough", "reductionistic", and "masochistic", but none are quite right. (FWIW, I teach at a women's college, and men are the coeds.)

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Note that there aren't any non-gendered synonyms for testosterone, either. – Robusto Feb 6 '15 at 18:01
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    I have a problem with the premise of this question. None of the example comics display anything close to "machismo" or macho behaviour, in fact I would call it the polar opposite. I would expect almost any of these speech bubbles to be the last thing someone says before being wedgied and stuffed into a locker. What they are displaying is attempting to be the "uber geek" or "alpha nerd". – Digital Chris Feb 6 '15 at 20:17
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    @DigitalChris, I've lived so long among geeks that I'm used to this type of machismo. I grant that's not how non-geeks would see these people. – Ellen Spertus Feb 6 '15 at 20:29
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    Frankly, I'm generally shocked to hear "macho" and "programmer" in the same sentence. – Hot Licks Feb 6 '15 at 22:05
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    I'm with @DigitalChris 100% on this. The meaning sought by the body of this question is completely unrelated to "macho". Moreover, I would say asking for a "non-gendered synonym for macho" is something of an oxymoron. The concept of "macho" is inextricably interwoven with sexism and concepts of gender roles to the point that a word that's non-gendered would necessarily differ significantly in meaning. – R.. Feb 7 '15 at 13:17

18 Answers 18

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In computer world, it seems like hardcore programmer is used in this sense and "Real programmer" phenomenon is compared to No true Scotsman fallacy. [However, hardcore programmer might be used in other senses as well.]

The term Real Programmer in computer folklore has come to describe the archetypical "hardcore" programmer who eschews the modern languages and tools of the day in favour of more direct and efficient solutions—closer to the hardware. The alleged defining features of a "Real Programmer" are extremely subjective, differing with time and place, in the fashion of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. [Wikipedia]

Definition of "real programmer" from "The New Hacker's Dictionary" by Eric S. Raymond:

Real Programmer: [indirectly, from the book "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche"] n. A particular sub-variety of hacker: one possessed of a flippant attitude toward complexity that is arrogant even when justified by experience. The archetypal `Real Programmer' likes to program on the bare metal and is very good at same, remembers the binary opcodes for every machine he has ever programmed, thinks that HLLs are sissy, and uses a debugger to edit his code because full-screen editors are for wimps.

Related Dilbert comic strip:

enter image description here

Related readings:


It might be diverging from your context but:

In plain English, you can consider curt to emphasize a way of speaking that’s brief and blunt. It also has an added sense of being rude or rudely short.

A very similar word is brusque which can also be more general and describe the behavior.

curt: rudely brief or abrupt, as in speech or manner [TFD]

brusque: talking or behaving in a very direct, brief, and unfriendly way [MW]

An example of gender-politics situation from Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins case (on the issue of employer liability for sex discrimination):

enter image description here enter image description here

The Gender Line: Men, Women, and the Law By Nancy Levit

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    I would very much recommend "Hardcore" for this particular usage. But not "curt" or "brusque", which more refers to a terseness, and not a proudness of using more difficult and rugged methodology. – Zibbobz Feb 6 '15 at 19:37
  • @Zibbobz: Yes you are right. I was aware and mentioned that it diverges from the context. Also, being curt can be getting right to the point in a rude way. I might remove them if I come up with a better word. – ermanen Feb 6 '15 at 19:57
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    I've worked at a STEM program where instructors and students used "hardcore" in a way very similar to what the OP describes, and I thought it worked very well. – Vectornaut Feb 7 '15 at 20:41
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    Note that the point of Nancy Levit's story is that words that appear to be non-gendered can nevertheless have a gendered connotation in context. – David K Feb 9 '15 at 0:39
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    I don't think hardcore has quite the same connotation as macho. A hardcore programmer may be obstinate, but their expertise entitles them to be obstinate, whereas someone who is macho is merely posturing. – Kevin Krumwiede Feb 9 '15 at 5:58
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In the particular context you give here, it’s not really about strength, but more about doing things in the most basic, unaided, original way possible. Considering we’re talking about developing computer code, this no-tech-help-allowed approach might properly be called oxymoronic, but a better term would, I think, be old-school (also written old-skool for humorous Internet effect):

: typical of an earlier style or form : based on a way of doing things that was common in the past
: using or supporting traditional practices
(Merriam-Webster)

A positive appellation referring to when things weren't flashy but empty of substance, were done by hard work, didn't pander to the lowest common denominator, and required real skill. Labour-saving devices, shortcuts that reduce quality and quitting before the task is done are not characteristics of "old school."
(Urban Dictionary)

This basic ‘feel’ of something can then be combined with some of the other suggestions already given here; the people in your comic strips can be described as competitively old-school or superciliously old-school, for example.

Or if a noun is what you’re after, competitive/supercilious old-schooler works very well, too. Unlike old-school itself, which has shades of meanings that are not relevant here (as in the M-W quotes above), old-schooler to my knowledge has only the meaning relevant to the UD quote above.

  • +1, Janus, I like your spin on this, it didn't occur to me. Your take on this evokes connotations of Old Testament asceticism and zealotry. – user98990 Feb 6 '15 at 19:37
  • old-skool is great – Fattie Jun 17 '15 at 5:35
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I think I would suggest that these individuals are demonstrating one-upmanship, or are perhaps purists or pedants.

One-upmanship is the art or practice of successively outdoing a competitor [...] the systematic and conscious practice of "creative intimidation", making one's associates feel inferior and thereby gaining the status of being "one-up" on them [...] Wikipedia

A pedant is a person who is excessively concerned with formalism, accuracy, and precision, or who makes an ostentatious and arrogant show of learning. Wikipedia

A purist is one who desires that an item remain true to its essence and free from adulterating or diluting influences. [...] According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the term dates from 1706 and is defined as "a person who adheres strictly and often excessively to a tradition" [...] Wikipedia

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    +1 for one-upmanship. "Anything you can do, I can do better." "I used to walk 40 miles to school in the snow without shoes, uphill--both ways! And I liked it!" – hunterhogan Feb 7 '15 at 0:06
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    @HunterHogan You had snow? Luxury! When I was a kid I had to walk 40 miles to school through cow dung, and I had no legs. +1 for one-upmanship. – Frank Feb 7 '15 at 6:04
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    This gets closest to the OP's question. One-upmanship encapsulates the competitive, but petty dispute over who is better or had it harder. – Wes Modes Feb 8 '15 at 7:28
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    Purism and one-upmanship are good, but - sorry to be pedantic - pedantry is something else entirely. "Puritanical" is a good related adjective, implying both purism and a holier-than-thou attitude. – user568458 Feb 9 '15 at 13:46
  • other than "purist" (which is sort of like "old-school" this really has naught to do with the question – Fattie Jun 17 '15 at 5:41
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Other than hardcore (or maybe it should be "hardcore" in air quotes—and yes, these are both fairly specific to this context to carry a similar depth of meanings), I think the closest word you're going to find that tries to wrap in the multiple connotations of macho is going to be vainglorious.

This manages to encompass not only the sense of pompous egotism, but also still catching a hint that perhaps there is a degree of basis for it (probably not to the extent expressed), whether that's rightly or wrongly something to express pride in at all, or particularly to such a crass degree (which macho is usually assumed to do as well). It usually also attaches some of the bullheadedness that is assumed to go along with "macho," particularly with a sense of obstreperousness.

This is somewhat a tough one, because it really depends on what particular connotations you had intended to attach to "macho" in this context, and therefor which ones you wanted to keep in the replacement phrasing, since "macho" is easily so highly contextual in terms of final interpretation.

  • This good too. I'd add a side helping of 'boastful' and maybe a taste of 'stretch the truth'. – Tony Ennis Feb 8 '15 at 14:22
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Popular question with many interesting answers. I am a recovering computer nerd, and I have worked in multiple professions that had similar battles of, "Oh yeah? Well, I can do the same thing but with my eyes closed."

A useful word for these people:

Pretentious, adjective

[Informal definition] : having or showing the unpleasant quality of people who want to be regarded as more impressive, successful, or important than they really are

1 : characterized by pretension: as

a : making usually unjustified or excessive claims (as of value or standing)

b : expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature

--Merriam-Webster

My first computer (VIC 20) was so old that it did not have a hard drive: it had a tape drive for storing data and programs. Yes, I programmed in line-numbered Basic but that is irrelevant to important questions such as: can I accomplish the current task? Can I complete it on time? Will my work product be usable by others and modifiable by those who follow me?

Humans are social animals. Life is usually more similar to a relay footrace than to a solo footrace: the fastest person in the world is useless on a relay team if he or she cannot reliably receive or pass the baton.

Boasting about extreme competence in unnecessary skills is overvaluing those skills and attempting to inflate one's esteem: it is pretentious.

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    Oh yeah? My first computer had punch cards. And we punched them by hand, not with a keypunch machine :-) – jamesqf Feb 7 '15 at 4:26
  • @jamesqf so what? We had to make our own punchcards. AND WE LIKED IT THAT WAY! – Tony Ennis Feb 8 '15 at 14:24
  • @Tony Ennis - that's it exactly! – user98990 Feb 9 '15 at 13:47
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    Pretentious, and narcissistic, to boot (pun is optional). – user98990 Feb 9 '15 at 13:51
3

Die-hard programmer comes to mind:

adjective

: very determined or loyal;

especially

: very loyal to a set of beliefs and not willing to change those beliefs

Of course, this phrase is particularly endearing if you have watched John McClane choose the hardest way to do every thing in every scene of every Die Hard movie. Yipee Ki Yay, [Bruce Willis]!

  • fantastic suggestion – Fattie Jun 17 '15 at 5:36
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There are some very good answers here, but I would add the followning for the case in question

luddite

inverted snob

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    My first thought was that "luddite" is wrong because these are technologists, but, by refusing to use the more modern technology, they are showing themselves to be a sort of luddite, traditionalist, or conservative, much as they would hate having those terms applied to them. – Ellen Spertus Feb 7 '15 at 17:22
  • Yeah, @espertus - they're neo-pseudo-luddites! – user98990 Feb 9 '15 at 13:46
3

Rather than try for a replacement, I'd go with "macho (pause and smile) or macha, if you prefer". This establishes that you are aware of the connotations of folks who take machismo seriously, and are willing to have a little fun with such concerns, while at the same time acknowledging the parallels found in geek behavior.

And while several comments have decried the connection of the two concepts (is "geek machismo" an oxymoron?) there are connections. The sort of exchange typified by the cartoons in the OP do occur, although not quite as absurdly (which is what makes them funny. To those who do find them funny.) and represent a struggle for dominance, at least in the conversation.

2

IMPERIOUS adjective:

assuming power or authority without justification; arrogant and domineering. "his imperious demands"

Synonyms: peremptory, high-handed, commanding, imperial, overbearing, overweening, domineering, authoritarian, dictatorial, autocratic, authoritative, lordly, assertive, bossy, arrogant, haughty, presumptuous

Google

or, possibly:

SUPERCILIOUS adjective:

behaving or looking as though one thinks one is superior to others. "a supercilious lady's maid"

Synonyms: arrogant, haughty, conceited, disdainful, overbearing, pompous, condescending, superior, patronizing, imperious, proud, snobbish, snobby, smug, scornful, sneering

Google

or maybe:

ARCH-CONSERVATIVE adjective:

1. extremely averse to change and strongly adhering to traditional values. "his social philosophy is archconservative"

ARCH-CONSERVATIVE noun:

1. a person who is extremely averse to change and strongly adheres to traditional values.

Google

2

I was going to say that "macho" and in general badassery is a male trait anyway, which reminded me of a nice word for you: Badass.

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    +1 for badass, although I'm not sure I agree with the generalization. – Ellen Spertus Feb 7 '15 at 3:32
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Another useful phrase to add to the list is all hat and no cattle. You would use this one for someone who brags a lot about their accomplishments, but doesn't have the actual skill and persistence to back it up.

As you might guess, the term originates from American (specifically Texan) cattle rancher culture:

... it dates back roughly to the 1940s when Texas's traditional, agrarian, ranching economy was being tilted on its head by oilmen and an influx of Northeners (or just non-Texan Southerners, who don't necessarily get Texas either) to the Third Coast. These people may have owned ranches as part of a personal fortune but weren't ranchers in their blood, and many may have put on Texas affectations as an entertaining hobby of forced quaintness, which native Texans perceived as patronizing.

(It may also help to know that the stereotypical Texan cattle rancher wears a large, distinctive hat.)

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Bro-grammer is how I've heard this kind of (usually male) petty upsmanship braggartry described. But it is an old game. See Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen Sketch.

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    Ha, still gendered, though. – Ellen Spertus Feb 8 '15 at 17:48
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I would describe the illustrated attitudes as competitive. If you want to imply a somewhat more aggressive attitude, you might use cutthroat.

A slang word that is associated with macho but is sometimes applied to both men and women is butch.

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    I've only really associated 'butch' with women. – TankorSmash Feb 6 '15 at 19:31
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    I would not recommend "butch", as it can be a very offensive word. – Zibbobz Feb 6 '15 at 19:35
  • "Butch" is just a different word for "masculine". And yes, in my experience, it's generally used to describe women -- more specifically, lesbians. Most straight people, male and female, would probably take offense. – cHao Feb 7 '15 at 15:37
  • I really didn't want to reply to these comments, but consider The Butch Factor as an example of the word applied to men. Although some may find it offensive if applied to them, it would only be bigotry that would lead them to do so. I would find it about as offensive as someone trying to imply I was Jewish (which would mean, I would not find it offensive at all). – jxh Feb 7 '15 at 18:56
  • @jxh: Note that even there, the word connotes gayness. Regardless of whether you consider it bigoted or not, most guys don't like the implication. – cHao Feb 7 '15 at 23:00
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Impudent describes the actual behavior.

Impudent, a. [L. impudens.] Shameless; wanting modesty; bold with contempt of others; saucy.

So more figuratively Brazen:

  1. Pertaining to brass; proceeding from brass; as a brazen din.
  2. Impudent; having a front like brass.

The metallic qualities could also be considered things like hard or tough.

Also since you evidently have a sense of humor, mulet fish. [See Webster's Revised Unabridged, 1913 entry for Macho.]

Impudent and Brazen pulled from Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language, (1828): Examples omitted.

0

You've already suggested strong, but there's also no-nonsense.

  • Yes, although I do think the reductionist prejudice they show is somewhat nonsense. – Ellen Spertus Feb 6 '15 at 18:21
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What about "hacker" as in the original use of the term, not it's current usage which is conflated with "cracker"?

  • Not really—you can be a "Lisp hacker" or even "Python hacker". Hacker usually refers to someone with a heavily customized environment, and occasionally (but only occasionally) refers to a Real Programmer. – 0942v8653 Feb 7 '15 at 4:06
  • Which 'cracker'? A safe (or code) cracker or white trash? – Mitch Feb 9 '15 at 1:53
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This calls for a neologism: nerdolympic.

I do like supercilious above, too. One-upmanship, also, although I don't know what the adjecvtival form of that is. "Arrogant" falls somewhere in the right ballpark, but it needs some sort of qualifier, as that nerd arrogance is not your garden variety arrogance, it's its own special thing.

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I am not certain if I understand your question entirely but in simple language would words such as: Be Firm; Steadfast or Immovable, suffice your needs? These can be used for both genders and can be spoken for motivational purposes especially in teaching values. I have heard them myself in different scenarios with positive effects coming from them, for either male or female listeners.

  • Thanks, but I'm looking for words with a neutral or negative connotation. I don't want to glorify the superciliousness/prejudice displayed by such programmers. – Ellen Spertus Feb 11 '15 at 19:23

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