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I am a software engineer, I have read some book/articles with the title "The Hitchhiker's Guide to XYZ", e.g. "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Python" or "The Hitchhiker's Guide to GitHub" or "Hitchhikers Guide To Modern Enterprise JavaScript" (just to show a few examples)

I guess the titles are a reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I don't read the book but I watched the movie. I guess it is because of the culture difference and I am not a native speaker I didn't appreciate the movie. To me it is just a "bizarre" movie.

But what is the connotation of “The Hitchhiker's Guide to XYZ” ?

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    The snowclones are used (1) as snappy, hip titles (2) which will appeal to various types of people. They connote (a) an easy-going attitude to everything, (b) minimal cost / effort involved, while (c) remaining interesting, informative, useful. May 10 at 11:04
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    @StuartF Yes I know what a hitchhiker is. But that only adds to my confusion! May 10 at 11:07
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    As jsw29 suggests in a comment beneath DJClayworth's answer, framing a software programming manual as "A Hitchhiker's Guide to X" is an invocation of "programmer cool"—because the ironic, irreverent, playfully dark tone of Douglas Adams's book struck a chord with many techie people. In the U.S., what might be called a "hipster nerd" attitude among some computer hardware and software experts—based on their highly advanced technical competence and a skeptical or pessimistic worldview—emerged long ago. It is reflected in the ethos of Dilbert (whom you know) and The Hacker's Dictionary.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 10 at 18:11
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    I would recommend reading the book if you can. Not only is it much much better than the movie in my opinion, but I think it may give you a better sense of the implied meaning of a "Hitchhiker's Guide" title.
    – David Z
    May 10 at 21:51
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    The movie wasn't very memorable so I don't even remember if it would have made sense without knowing the book. A lot of what's great about the book is the clever / funny wording the narration uses to describe things (which in the movie would be purely visual), and the descriptions of how the world works, not just what the characters are doing. Things that don't really translate at all easily to a movie. (There was a TV show version of H2G2, though, which does manage some of the charm. It's at least trying to be like the book. I'd recommend the book first (or instead), especially audiobook.) May 11 at 2:14

4 Answers 4

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is itself a reference to a book title that was well-known at the time Douglas Adams wrote his original radio drama.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe" by Ken Welsh, published in 1971, was a well known title at the time. The book is exactly what it says - a guide to traveling in Europe for those on a cheap budget, which in those days often involved actual hitchhiking. It has a "hip", informal and irreverent vibe that readers of Adams' work will recognize. The connection to HHGG is well documented.

The book focused on practical advice rather than cultural or historical description, it took an informal style, and was intended for those wanting to get maximum value for little outlay and who are prepared to "rough it". It is these aspects that the more recent titles are probably intended to evoke.

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    To avoid confusing the OP still more, it should probably be added that the titles of this form, in their present use, are intended more to evoke a certain attitude, a certain frame of mind (which is associated both with actual hitchhiking and with appreciation of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), than to convey any definite information.
    – jsw29
    May 10 at 15:52
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    @NotThatGuy I don't think the answer is implying that the recent titles are directly referencing Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, but rather it's explaining how the title Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came to be in the first place and what it was supposed to mean (which was indeed a reference to Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe.) Without that context, the title of HHGG doesn't make much sense (either to me or apparently to the OP) and the context that comes with the title is lost.
    – reirab
    May 11 at 15:38
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    @reirab I didn't read the question as asking where the title of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came from (although I suppose it could be asking that). But that question would be off topic. I rather read it as asking why everyone is using the "The Hitchhiker's Guide to XYZ" title format, which seems to have everything to do with HHGG and not all that much to do with whatever that's based on (and with that interpretation of the question, the answer is very much saying those titles are directly based on The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe).
    – NotThatGuy
    May 11 at 15:46
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    @NotThatGuy The question explicitly asks for the connotation of "Hitchhiker's Guide to XYZ." Without explaining why HHGG chose that title and what it intended to mean by it, much of that connotation is lost, IMO.
    – reirab
    May 11 at 15:52
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    @reirab Whatever context you think would or would not be useful doesn't change the fact that it's (presumably) objectively wrong to imply that recent "The Hitchhiker's Guide to XYZ" titles are a reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, and that's very much the message I'm getting from this answer. If you try to remove your bias of already knowing the answer to the question, and you instead read exactly what's written, you may see that too.
    – NotThatGuy
    May 11 at 16:46
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy* that we read, hear, or even watch is funny, and fun. "Don't Panic" is a key theme, certainly. But within what we see, the Guide is a book (an electronic or equivalent one). That, within the universe of the stories, is successful for three reasons, compared to the Encylopedia Galactica:

  • the text "Don't Panic" on the cover
  • the price

(these two are clearly stated together) and,

  • the reassuring tone (Earth is described as "Mostly Harmless" in later editions, which also demonstrates that it doesn't try to give all the tedious details).

Done well, a programming book inspired by the Hitchhiker's Guide should be a light-hearted, informal overview, probably with some entertaining asides and examples. It's not meant to be a complete language reference listing every possible permutation of parameters, which would be a weighty and pricey tome.

The target market for such a guide would appear to be those with an understanding of programming who are new to the specific subject, and can immediately benefit from something quickly readable.

*I'm most familiar with it in book form, which was adapted from the original radio series by the same author, and is a pretty faithful re-rendering of the same material in a different format.

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    This is to make my comments (and some subsequent discussion) into a more permanent and organised form, filled out with what would have been several more comments
    – Chris H
    May 11 at 20:53
  • The python book does say this in introduction section "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Python exists to provide both novice and expert Python developers a best practice handbook for the installation, configuration, and usage of Python on a daily basis." docs.python-guide.org/intro/duction May 13 at 2:25
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Don't Panic

This is inscribed on the actual (in-universe meaning) cover of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

It means to take a relaxed attitude towards new and interesting situations, and learn from everything, no matter how absurd it appears to be. That's all.


EDIT

No, this is not a joke. It expresses quite succinctly the attitude and blithe spirit of the rest of the book.

Those who have seen only the movie and not read the book are probably not going to understand the reference... enter image description here

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    What's with the link to a companion book? I think you meant to link The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (fictional), since the IRL HHG2G doesn't necessarily have "Don't Panic" on the cover (e.g. the first edition).
    – wjandrea
    May 10 at 22:44
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    @wjandrea: the actual Guide as described in the book did have "Don't Panic" on the cover, in big reassuring letters. May 11 at 7:39
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    But as well as the "don't panic" message, the tone of such a book should be light-hearted and informal, rather than dwelling on tedious details. In the case of programming books it's the antithesis of a language reference
    – Chris H
    May 11 at 13:12
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    I don't get how this is supposed to answer OP's question, is this a joke answer?
    – pipe
    May 11 at 14:58
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    That last comment should be in your actual answer. Remember, people wanting to know the answer to this question likely aren't familiar with H2G2, or didn't "get it" if they are. Besides that, I don't think your current answer does a very good job of explaining what about the H2G2 attitude is really relevant. I know what you mean by "relaxed attitude" because I do know the H2G2 books, but @Chris H's comment looks to me like a much better explanation. This answer in its current form seems... mostly harmless. May 11 at 17:14
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What is the connotation of “The Hitchhiker's Guide to XYZ”?

The exact connotations that individual authors (or their publishers) wish to convey in naming their book “The Hitchhiker's Guide to XYZ” is likely be a bit varied.

This is because, unlike titles of the form “XYZ for Dummies” which fall under the trademark of a single publisher (who curate/conform their collection to all be instructional/reference-books-for-beginners), the “The Hitchhiker's Guide to XYZ” template does not fall under one master trademark (and thus there is no single authority making sure everyone follows the same set of connotations).

That said, understanding some general connotations these authors/publisher's might be trying to convey probably requires a bit of cultural background.


I guess the titles are a reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

You are correct; Douglas Adams's novel (based on the writing he had done for a BBC radio program) is the dominant reference for this snowclone/template. I say dominant, and not original, because Adams himself jokingly based the title off the then-quite-popular travel-guide “Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe” (as DJClayworth notes in more detail in his answer). Even more confusingly, Adams's book (which is essentially a fictional narrative following the character Arthur Dent) often makes reference to an in-universe book by the same name (which is a bonafide travel-guide).

Adams's books went on to sell quite well to the general public; but the science-fiction settings and quirky, sometimes irreverent, often ironic, humor ended up cementing the book(s) as a staple in the literary canon of modern 'nerd culture'. (Which is why copycat titles so often appear in texts about Computer Programming and nearby STEM fields.)


So, what general connotations might these authors/publisher's be trying to convey?

Some might be using the 'nerdy reference' simply to sell more copies of their tech-oriented reference book by having a title that is memorable/hip/catchy to their STEM-oriented audience (no matter what writing style they use in the text). Others might use the reference as an indicator that their writing is "more casual than a textbook" in a similar way that “XYZ for Dummies” benefit from their title. Others still might be using the reference as an indicator that the author is going to make every attempt to be humorously as quirky, irreverent, and ironic as Adams was in his tome.

In general, though, it's probably safe to assume a typical instructional/reference-book somewhere in the ballpark of “XYZ for Dummies” to “(O'Reilly Media) XYZ” with a somewhat casual style.*

* Do read at least a few pages before purchase to get a feel for the author's tone/style; comedy writing (or lack thereof) in one's personal reference library is likely to be a bit polarizing.


As an aside: the movie version was quite bizarre (presumably by design). The book features a lot of wordplay, which - in addition to being very language-specific - can also be very hard to translate to film even for English-text to English-film (which I believe the film-producers tried to replicate by making the film even quirkier). Furthermore, condensing an entire book to a single film can be difficult in terms of time... and meant that a large amount of expository material was omitted entirely to eliminate some plotlines while other exposition was expanded to clarify main plotlines for the video audience.

Google seems to indicate that there are a number of Chinese translations of the book - though I have no clue how well any of these might convey the humor properly; my best guess would be that a Hong Kong translator would likely best understand the dry British humor that is so often present.

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  • Thanks for the long/detailed answer. I have a small question, you said "a typical instructional/reference-book somewhere in the ballpark of “XYZ for Dummies” but I get the feeling that reference-book somewhere in the ballpark of "XYZ, the definitive guide" May 12 at 4:31
  • @Qiulang邱朗 Sure! Your results may vary depending on the particular subject/book encountered. But, the "XYZ, the Definitive Guide" template you propose seems to fall pretty near the "O'Reilly" end of he spectrum I proposed - at least if you take "JavaScript: The Definitive Guide" (O'Reilly) and "Spark: The Definitive Guide" (O'Reilly) as examples. May 12 at 5:10
  • 'The exact connotations that individual authors (or their publishers) wish to convey' or a paraphrase should preface every answer here (or better, of the question itself). +1. Connotations are often at least as much a function of the individual reader etc as of the wording. May 12 at 11:57
  • You seem to imply that the novel is somehow the authoritative version but I believe Adams was actually happier that the radio series, novel and tv adaptation each varied somewhat from each other. I know he was also consulted on the film. May 12 at 14:23
  • @Damien_The_Unbeliever You are probably quite correct of Adams's feelings on the multiple versions; my answer was mostly forwarding the primacy of the novel as compared to the 2005 movie (at least in so far as being formative of mainstream 'nerd culture'). I do not have a good feeling for how popular the radio series is/was in comparison to the books other than anecdotal experience that the books seem to be more well known than the US - though I could see how being broadcast free on the BBC could likely make the situation reversed in the UK. May 12 at 18:20

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