Python's Zen states on line 14 that:

Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you're Dutch.

Is this a reference to the famous Dutch computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra?

  • 9
    I pick option C: it's mostly an attempt at imparting a sense of the deep and mysterious to statements to which "banal" might more accurately be applied. May 16, 2012 at 2:52

2 Answers 2


Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you're Dutch.

refers to the previous line:

There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.

And it has been argued that it's in reference to Dijkstra's thoughts on language design as expressed in his comments for the GREEN language (an early ADA):

I thought that it was a firm principle of language design --out of concern for programming as a human activity-- that in all respects equivalent programs should have few possibilities for different representations (possibility for differences ideally not going beyond the arbitrary choice of identifiers and the arbitrary ordering of syntactically unordered components). Otherwise completely different styles of programming arise unnecessarily, thereby hampering maintainability, readability and what have you. This requires from the language designers the courage to make up their minds! The designers of the GREEN language have repeatedly lacked that courage, and have provided multiple ways of doing the same thing.

The quote has been used to point the antithesis between Python's design (There’s only one way to do it) to Perl's (There's more than one way to do it)

Slogans, semi-official and unofficial:

Perl: "There's more than one way to do it."

"There's more ways to do it than you can remember, probably more than you can even recognize."

Python: "There should be one -- and preferably only one -- obvious way to do it."

At least we tried to pick the right way. (I have seen a progenitor of this remark attributed to Dijkstra: "I thought..." - Edsger W. Dijkstra on GREEN, an early version of Ada)

Further digging revealed this old thread on a Python mailing list, appropriately named "Dijkstra on Python". The thread is centered around the same quote, and the philosophical differences between Python and Perl.

But, the Dutch is indeed Guido van Rossum, as Tim Peters (author of the Zen of Python) reveals:

In context, "Dutch" means a person from the Netherlands, or one imbued with Dutch culture (begging forgiveness for that abuse of the word). I would have said French, except that every French person I asked "how do you make a shallow copy of a list?" failed to answer


so I guess that's not obvious to them. It must be obvious to the Dutch, though, since it's obvious to Guido van Rossum (Python's creator, who is Dutch), and a persistent rumor maintains that everyone who posts to comp.lang.python is in fact also Dutch. The French people I asked about copying a list weren't Python users, which is even more proof (as if it needed more).

Or, in other words, "obvious" is in part a learned, cultural judgment. There's really nothing universally obvious about any computer language, deluded proponents notwithstanding. Nevertheless, most of Python is obvious to the Dutch. Others sometimes have to work a bit at learning the one obvious way in Python, just as they have to work a bit at learning to appreciate tulips, and Woody Woodpecker impersonations.

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    Well done. I sure learned a lot from your response. May 16, 2012 at 12:53
  • The Dutch have some very interesting firsts in computer language, compilers, and computer science in general. Another interesting quote about the Dutch and computer science is Guido van Rossum's statement on algol: "it was said that Algol 68's popularity was inversely proportional to [...] the distance from Amsterdam". Interesting.
    – Warren P
    Dec 3, 2013 at 1:49
  • 1
    Well that wasn't very explicit ;) Jan 15, 2016 at 23:55
  • Just for the record, at the end, the GREEN team wan. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_(programming_language)
    – Ariel
    Dec 26, 2019 at 8:11

I'm pretty sure it's a reference to Guido van Rossum.

He's the creator and BDFL of Python.

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