I read it here.

The New Jersey guy said that the Unix solution was right because the design philosophy of Unix was simplicity and that the right thing was too complex. Besides, programmers could easily insert this extra test and loop. The MIT guy pointed out that the implementation was simple but the interface to the functionality was complex. The New Jersey guy said that the right tradeoff has been selected in Unix-namely, implementation simplicity was more important than interface simplicity.

The MIT guy then muttered that sometimes it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, but the New Jersey guy didn't understand (I'm not sure I do either).

I don't understand it either. Is there an American cultural reference in there? Can anybody here explain?


It comes from an early slogan from Perdue, a major chicken producer in the US.

Here is a video from youtube. I don't think it is the original ad.

The message is that his tough standards for chicken production make some of the best (most tender) chicken. In the programming context it means that complex code may be required to implement a simple user interface.

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    Ah, OK I get it now... the MIT guy is arguing that their more exacting standards are harder to implement to but ultimately make for a better product. – z7sg Ѫ May 9 '11 at 16:23
  • In light of my peeving comments under Robusto's Answer, I can't in all conscience upvote your answer. But I do understand if you feel you're being sidelined. – FumbleFingers May 9 '11 at 16:31
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    @FumbleFingers: I wasn't at all hurt by the comments above. I didn't answer the question to dignify it. I answered it because it interested me, vacuous or not. I think for people in the UK or non-native English speakers, a question about the language used in American advertisement could have great interest and use, especially if somebody decided to use it as an obscure reference in a different context. – gbutters May 9 '11 at 16:37
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    You're quite right, and I somewhat regret my earlier self-indulgence. May I suggest you edit your answer to include the actual meaning of OP's quoted example? Which I think is pretty much what he said in his OK I get it now comment, but more specifically in the computing sense nets down to It often takes complex software to implement a simple user interface. – FumbleFingers May 9 '11 at 17:12
  • Actually, in the context, it means that careful attention to correctness of design results in implementations that are better than designs that are devoted to simplicity of implementation. It's a critique of the Unix design philosophy, which at the time was simplicity at the cost of completeness or correctness. – vy32 Feb 18 '17 at 15:11

It's from an ad campaign by Perdue chicken, featuring the founder, Frank Perdue.

n 1971, Perdue Farm embarked on its first major advertising campaign and had contracted the firm of Scali, McCabe Scoves.1 The firm came up with the idea of putting Perdue on television himself, with the tag line, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken."1

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    Well I read that but I still don't understand what it means in context. Perhaps I'm being slow, humour me? – z7sg Ѫ May 9 '11 at 16:11
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    @Robusto: I'm glad you didn't dignify this vacuous piece of marketing / politico-speak with an actual definition. Upvoted as a totally adequate Answer. – FumbleFingers May 9 '11 at 16:11
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    Just as an addendum, as it came from an advertising firm, it has no meaning. – Sam May 9 '11 at 16:11
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    @FumbleFingers I loathe meaningless ad slogans probably as much as you ('I don't have an iphone' etc.) but I would like to know what the MIT guy means. – z7sg Ѫ May 9 '11 at 16:17
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    @z7sg: A "tender" chicken is a good chicken. But it may take a "tough" CEO to run a company that makes a good chicken. – Tom Au Jul 21 '11 at 19:08

In this context, the person is saying something to the effect that the way you act while doing something isn't always the way you want the product to be: sometimes it takes a lot of work on the implementation side ("a tough man") to make an operating system simple to use ("a tender chicken").

(It's a rather silly comparison, but then, the piece is lightly mocking the person who's saying it.)

  • Actually, the piece is mocking not the person who said it, but the designers of the Unix operating system. – vy32 Feb 18 '17 at 15:11

This is a phenomenon that runs counter to the conventional wisdom of "like creates like."

Normally, one would expect a tender man (proprietor) to create a tender chicken.

But Frank Perdue was a notoriously tough, demanding CEO. So he "made a virtue of necessity" by advertising this fact, and said, "It takes a tough man to producer a tender chicken." That is, he is tough on his employees, so THEY will produce a tender chicken.

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