What Does INTERCAL Mean?

The Compiler Language with no Pronounceable Acronym, or INTERCAL, is a programming language developed in the early 1970s by Princeton University students Don Woods and James Lyon. Unlike other computer languages of its time, this one is classified as a parody, with many unnecessary and confusing elements meant to poke fun at the software design conventions of that era. Even the name, INTERCAL, is a parody, since the actual name of the language in no way corresponds to the letters in the acronym.


Techopedia Explains INTERCAL

As a parody language, INTERCAL has any number of unusual and odd pieces of syntax and methods. These include the use of a $ for a “mingle operator” which was supposed to be a reference to software costs, and a question mark for another operator, which indicated common confusion on the part of the reader. Another strange aspect of this language was a modifier “Please” that was required to be inserted into program multiple times, in order to keep the programming code “polite.” Even in documentation, INTERCAL was a quite unusual language, for example, with the addition of a “tonsil” instead of an appendix at the end of the manual.

Despite its extremely unusual code structure, INTERCAL did function as a capable computer programming language, albeit not a widely used one.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.