Insane Linux Kernel Patches Resulting From Code Of Conduct
Written by Sue Gee   
Sunday, 02 December 2018

A misguided attempt to remove swearwords from comments embedded in Linux kernel code has itself been greeted with a torrent of comment.  It has to be noted that most of the discussion on the Linux mailing list is remarkably moderate in tone and  comes to an acceptable conclusion.

Kernel maintainer and Intel software engineer Jarkko Sakkinen opened the thread with a set of patches to existing code comments in which he replaced the four-letter word starting with f  by "hug":


Theses changes led to revised comments which certainly didn't do anything to improve the situation. such as

 "If you don't see why, please stay the hug away from my code"

This may seem less aggressive than the original, but is still a personal insult. Comments are supposed to make code clearer so what would you make of this? 

 "IOC3 is hugging hugged beyond belief"

For one thing it shows that this wasn't a straightforward global change - otherwise it would read "is huging huge" which could be construed as a compliment.

An alternative suggestion for a global changed was to replace f*** by "heck" which could work better, but still presents the problem pointed out in this reply:  

"As a non-native speaker, I find both replacements difficult to understand.While many of the original comments are easy to grasp for +7 year olds who were never taught English, but are exposed to modern global ways of communication...

That makes a good point, most of us learn to swear in every language we are exposed to and  f*** is probably the most universally understood word in the world. Yes it is best avoided, but there as some situations in which no other word is as expressive, even if it is both obscene and unladylike.

Personally I think it has lost its effectiveness and has lost its profanity by overuse. It has to be tolerated in dramatic media because to exclude it would be unrealistic and unconvincing and believe me its use isn't restricted by gender.

Another question that I haven't seen expressed elsewhere is whether excessive hugging could bring down another ton of bricks. When is a hug warm affection and when is it unwanted sexual harassment? I say this tongue in cheek but when a highly respected, highly respectable conference on Neural Information Processing Systems has to change its name from the straightforward acronym NIPS to NeurIPS so as to avoid "unintended connotations" you do start to be careful what you say.

If the newly introduced Linux Code of Conduct was to be applied retrospectively there would indeed be a problem. As has been pointed out by Michael Larabel the "hug" patches were applied to 33 lines of comments among more than 3.3 million lines. Given Linux has a culture in which bad language was regarded as a legitimate way to express dissatisfaction with code a huge number of changes would be required.

An early comment in the "hugs" thread asked if Sakkinen was making a joke. In reply he said

Well... Not a joke really but more like conversation starter :-)

and explained that on a long flight he read the Code of Conduct and discovered this paragraph:

"Harassment includes the use of abusive, offensive or degrading language, intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording,inappropriate physical contact, sexual imagery and unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors."

A few messages later in the thread he quoted:

"Maintainers have the right and responsibility to remove, edit, or reject comments, commits, code, wiki edits, issues, and other contributions that are not aligned to this Code of Conduct, or to ban temporarily or permanently any contributor for other behaviors that they deem inappropriate, threatening, offensive, or harmful."

and asks:

How this should be interpreted?

Luckily over the next few messages information is provided that will indeed help maintainer know what to do.

James Bottomly points out:

Firstly, this is *only* about contributions going forward. The
interpretation document says we don't have to look back into the repository and we definitely can't remove something from git that's already been committed.

Then Jonathan Corbet asks:

Have you read Documentation/process/code-of-conduct-interpretation.rst? As has been pointed out, it contains a clear answer to how things should be interpreted here. 

The reply to this from Sakkinen indicates that he wasn't aware of the single version and he asks why they could not have been:

merged to single common sense code of conduct?

The next reply from Bottomly skates over a lot of recent and painful history:

The fact that we've arrived at essentially an original CoC
reinterpreted to the point where it's effectively a new CoC has been the source of much debate and recrimination over the last few months ... you can read it in the ksummit-discuss archives, but I really think we don't want to reopen that can of worms.

In a further message he states:

You can't read [CoC] in isolation, you need to read it along with the interpretation document. The latter was created precisely because there was a lot of push back on interpretation problems and ambiguities with the original CoC and it specifically covers this case (and a lot of others).

By this point Sakkinen has already said:

Got you... Well I now read the 2nd amendment now through, and yeah, kind of way I work/function anyway.

Thank you for the patience...

Which is definitely a comment that follows the CoC.

So the overall and useful takeway from this thread is: 

Content that already exists predating the Code of Conduct will not be addressed now as a violation.

So that definitely means there should be no hunting down of existing comments in kernel code.

which is very good news since trying to do it using any type of global operation is demonstrably beset with problems, while addressing each one on an individual basis would be a colossal waste of time.

Another is that the CoC is obviously having a beneficial effect with contentious issues being addressed with tolerance on all sides.



More Information

Linux Mailing List thread

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 02 December 2018 )