Charting expletives from the Linux Kernel Mailing List

Climate Study

© Lead Image © Cornelius, Fotolia.com

© Lead Image © Cornelius, Fotolia.com

Article from Issue 192/2016
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Kernel amateurs are best advised to read summaries of the heated discussions on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML) before they delve in. We analyze 2.5 million postings to study the density of cursing.

Every now and then, a message reaches social media that Linux boss Linus Torvalds has flipped out once again and dressed down kernel colleagues with rude words. Some Linux enthusiasts look on this with amusement, enjoying the tirades of the great dictator over a cool drink after work; others see the harsh nature of the language as representing an intimidating boy's club culture that privileges insiders.

The issue of language on the kernel list has been in the foreground for the last few years. In 2013, Intel developer Sarah Sharp led an effort to improve civility among kernel developers [1], and Red Hat's Lennart Poettering has also spoken up for more politeness and less abusive language [2].

In 2015, Linus responded to criticism by posting a Code of Conflict [3] that affirms the need for civility in the code review process, instructing developers to contact the Linux Foundation's Technical Advisory Board if they feel the process is threatening or abusive, and ending with a directive to not let things get personal:

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