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Code maintenance: keeping a bad pattern when extending new code for being consistent, or not?

I'm working on a project for a Greek public organization, as a part for a course semester project. I have to develop a 3-tier application that manages financial data. A professor of mine acts as an advisor and is helping me on the project.

I write my own code but there are also pieces of code written by other developers that I can also use, and some the code is also written by my professor. The Greek developers program without using any patterns or conventions, they are generally unaware of phrases like "best-practices" and "programming methodology". They just write code of pure quality. Most of them are at least 10 years more experienced than me but I am on my way. My professor is a "pragmatic programmer" and produces "clean code that works" of high quality.

The Greek developers speak English as well. The problem is that some of them use greeklish for the various names of variables, classes and methods-obviously greek charachters cannot be used for such purposes. For example, the greek translation of "user" is "χρήστης" which in greeklish could be written in the following ways:

  • xristis,
  • xrhsths,
  • hristis,
  • christis,
  • ...

As a result, the same meaning can be expressed with different characters. Some of the developers use English in their code, and there are no naming conventions at all.

I'm working on this project just for the sake of knowledge and further practice. I would like to apply practices I read in books in software that can also be used and modified by others.

Should I keep using greeklish just to be in harmony with the already existing code? In that case, who knows In a few months I may get valuable feedback for my effort, which will eventually make me a better programmer.

Or, should I just keep doing the right thing, taking example from my professor? In that case my code might be an one-use throw-away effort because none of the Greek developers would like to follow a new set of conventions.

  • 6
    Oh, how much I hate greeklish. That said, this is a generic question on conventions, could you please revise it to read as a question and not a blog post?
    – yannis
    Jan 27, 2012 at 22:03
  • What should I do? I'd suggest some refactoring just to make this easier to read. Did you just use the variable "X" to refer to someone of type Professor? I would suggest renaming it to "professor", and in the case of ambiguity, perhaps "oldProfessor". Furthermore, unless "ORG" is constant, I would avoid all-caps (and even then, only if that is the convention in your implementation language). I'd also suggest renaming "OTHERS" to "greekTeam" or something else suitably identifying.
    – ccoakley
    Jan 27, 2012 at 22:06
  • 1
    X and OTHERS are developers. But I'll refactor
    – Flo
    Jan 27, 2012 at 22:11
  • 2
    Greek Language & Usage - shameless plug.
    – yannis
    Jan 27, 2012 at 22:49
  • 2
    What language are you programming in? Many languages today (Java, C#, Python 3.x, Ruby, etc) support Unicode identifiers, in which case Greek would be perfectly acceptable. Jan 28, 2012 at 12:30

4 Answers 4


Greeklish is no different than any other internet only form of slang. It originates in a dark era when there was minimal support for the language on computers, back when we said code page instead of character encoding. Nowadays, what you are describing is the equivalent of using "lolspeak", and it has no place in code.

You should really use English, and if possible advocate against Greeklish and for proper naming conventions. In any case, consistency is key. If they refuse to adopt English, at least they have to make sure to use exactly the same form of each word everywhere.

I know a little too well how public organizations work in Greece, so that's probably a lost cause and you should just tough it out.

Did you discuss any of this with your professor?

  • 1
    You're right, this is an organisational issue too. I did, only by a short email (but I will discuss with him in a few days). His response was actually: "Don't ask". He told me, he had seen java code using greek charachters for variable name...
    – Flo
    Jan 27, 2012 at 22:28
  • @Florenc Well, as a Greek developer, having worked with a number of public organizations, that would be my answer too...
    – yannis
    Jan 27, 2012 at 22:32

Related to coding practices:

Consistency is king. Whichever way you name your variables you either:

  • Stick to it no matter how weird it is as long as it is consistent, or
  • Refactor the rest of the codebase to fit the new convention.

Regarding the language, it is never possible to code only in a native language. You can either code entirely in US English or use a weird hybrid language. Even if you name all your your variables and functions in Greek, you'd still have library calls in English and in languages like Java, you'd have to create even more weird names like getHristis.

I've seen some code written in a mix of Serbian and English a few times(I guess you'd call it Serblish) and my reaction was similar to yours. That practice doesn't have any benefit at all, since you'd get code that no one understands. Although I am a native speaker of Serbian I couldn't understand some parts of the code clearly, because some Serbian words were mutilated in order to fit the code. Not to mention the problem with false friends.

But, you know all that already. The problem you have is

Related to organizational practices:

Unfortunately, you don't create the coding conventions in your current team.

Try to find out what the conventions are (if any) and try to stick with them. You could try to tell your teammates what you think, but don't hold your breath over it. You said yourself that they are very experienced programmers. At best, they've probably been told the same many times before, but kept doing the same. At worst they'll call you a hippie.

But, don't worry. You already have an idea on what the good coding practices are. As soon as you find yourself in a different situation in a team that cares about code quality these things will emerge. Better than the other way around.

  • Why US English? Are other forms of English not as good in some way? Jan 28, 2012 at 10:00
  • 1
    @DavidWallace: All forms of English are good, but most APIs seem to be written using American spelling, rather than British one. I once had to solve a bug caused by parameter being sent as colour but read as color. Not nearly as much of a problem like with actual different languages, but you can see that even small inconsistencies can cause problems if you're not extremely careful. Jan 28, 2012 at 10:12
  • @DavidWallace: possibly because more people are exposed to US English than British English (thanks to Hollywood etc.) Jan 28, 2012 at 10:14

I'm biased, but use English. For a few reasons.

  1. Most developers, even if it's not their native language, know English. It's the defacto language of science. Most papers are published in English.

  2. If your developers all know English to some extent, it won't exclude anybody. I work in a shop with developers from all over the world, Egypt, India, Canada, USA, Singapore, France, etc... and we all develop in English.

  3. As you can see from your example, you can type the words. You don't require special characters, and phonetics to be able to type. Thus, it reduces confusion.

  • 3
    A good answer but to the wrong question. We all (including OP, it seems) agree that using only English in code is the best choice. The question is what to do if there is an existing codebase written in half-English. Consistency vs Quality. Jan 27, 2012 at 22:40
  • @GoranJovic, create new things properly, improve old code as you touch it. There's no point continuing with a practice that is clearly flawed, and can easily be fixed. Refactoring variable names is trivial, and safely supported in many IDEs
    – CaffGeek
    Jan 27, 2012 at 22:50
  • It is easily fixed in a best-practice project. Who knows if they have proper source control, who would have to update the docs and how, if they have Greek table and column names in DB and if the change would require restart and/or downtime... Imagine what kind of crap he can expect in a situation like that. Jan 27, 2012 at 23:23

I am a Greek speaking language, too many years programmer, actually from my age of 13, and I just take a look now on many of my code to check my self if I use greeklish (that I also avoid them).

I found on my code that I use them in this cases.

  1. when I do not know the english word, or not familiar with it.
  2. when I am rush to write some code.
  3. when the english and the greek are similar words, like "type" "typos", "seira" "serial", "idea"... etc

I never use greeklish for common words like the "User" -> Xristis, because the word "User" is used also from many libraries and this make confuse, but I found now that I review my code some words like "etisi" (αιτηση) that I am not sure how to say it in enlgish, is not a request, is not an application, is an ask for.. anyway.

I understand your problem, how can you try to learn words that actually not exist ! and there are not even help you to learn something.

I think that its their fault that mix up the language when all the involved developers do not know Greek, and you with a polite way, must find a way to tell them that this situation make your work slower and harder, and the code difficult to debug and understand.

I am against greeklish not only in programs but in Greek language also.

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