Stranger than fiction

Esoteric programming languages that will have you mowing grass and performing Shakespeare

Sarah Schlothauer
programming languages
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Esoteric programming languages may not be the most useful or the prettiest, but they may be the most interesting. Here’s a look at some of the strangest programming languages out there.

Tried the most popular programming languages out there and looking for something a little less mainstream? Forget Kotlin, Perl, and Swift. Here are some esoteric programming languages that won’t ever make the top of the TIOBE Index.


Created in 2000, Beatnik is a very, shall we say, different language. Its creator Cliff Biffle has created several joke programming languages including a 4-D language that is puzzling to us 3-dimensional humans (let alone a 2-dimensional Flatlander), but his language Beatnik is the most fun to read aloud.

Beatnik is a stack-based language that consists only of English words. Every word is assigned a numerical score that it would get in a game of Scrabble. (Scrabble enthusiasts, drop your pitchforks, there may be some words that go against the official Scrabble rules.) Then, the value of the score determines the function. Sounds simple enough, let’s take a look at some sample code that creator Cliff Biffle wrote. Here is a program that simply prints “Hi”:

Baa, badassed areas!
Jarheads' arses
      queasy nude adverbs!
    Dare address abase adder? *bares baser dadas* HA!
Equalize, add bezique, bra emblaze.
  He (quezal), aeons liable.  Label lilac "bulla," ocean sauce!
Ends, addends,
   duodena sounded amends.


Relive those fond memories of posting lolcats on your Myspace page with LOLCODE. Created by Adam Lindsay from Lancaster University in 2007, LOLCODE’s keywords share the same style as lolcat memes. There’s also an interpreter written in C, created by Justin Meza.

Here’s what the hello world function looks like. (If you listen carefully, you can hear the Impact font and compressed .jpg.)

HAI 1.2

When coding in LOLCODE, you can declare a variable with I HAS A var and open files by asking PLZ OPEN FILE "NAME".


Shakespeare programming langauge

Developed by Jon Åslund and Karl Hasselström, the Shakespeare programming language is a bit theatrical. There is a cast of characters that must interact with each other, push and pop, and ask each other questions. Code isn’t just lines anymore, it’s Acts and Scenes, complete with Roman numerals that resemble a Shakespeare play. The variables are stacks with an associated integer that push onto a stack and remind the characters in the play to remember an appropriate value. This is only somewhat more complex than some of the love triangles in Shakespeare.

But what’s the best part of a Shakespeare play? The hilarious insults, of course. This programming language isn’t missing any of those. Here’s a sample of the sassy remarks you’ll be writing:

You lying stupid fatherless big smelly half-witted coward!
You are as stupid as the difference between a handsome rich brave
hero and thyself! Speak your mind!


Do you ever feel like programming is like watching grass grow? Are so many weeds popping up in your code that you’d rather work on your lawn? Say no more.

Grass is a programming language based on lambda calculus that uses ASCII art to simulate grass. It was proposed in 2006 at the IPSJ Jouho-Kagaku Wakate no Kai in Japan. How does this grass grow? Only the characters “W”, “w”, and “v” are used. There are several interpreters in different languages available (including Ruby, Scala, and Python).

In Japanese, a string of wwwwww is often used in replacement for lol. So, essentially, this is a programming language that is constantly laughing at you.



Less is always more, so by that logic nothing is the most. Whitespace was released by Edwin Brady and Chris Morris in 2003 for April Fool’s Day. Make no mistake, this wasn’t just an April Fool’s Joke. It uses only whitespace characters, namely spaces, tabs, and linefeeds. That’s right, it’s essentially invisible.

Take a look at the hello world code. (It seems the original website is no longer available, so here is a Wayback Machine link.) And yes, I swear it has done loading and it’s there.

Do you know of any other esoteric programming languages? Have you ever tried to write in one of these?


Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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