Here's a posting that got deleted a while back... It surprised me since it was a hand-written note from Donald Knuth himself, providing a definitive answer to a question that had been asked on Stack Overflow.

It's always seemed a shame to me that his note was deleted, even with the best of intentions. So, apropos of the podcast this morning I thought I would raise the issue and see what people thought.


Unfortunately, only 10K users can see the posting. I've mirrored the content to my personal web site (a far less permanent site than Stack Overflow in my reckoning):


So, if anybody has a clue as to the best way to request an undelete on this, feel free to chime in!

Enter image description here

  • 13
    +1 - Donald Knuth is one of the most prominent computer scientists in the world. I say we keep it, and lock it. Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:14
  • 3
    This would be the way to request it. We can't vote to undelete it, as it was deleted by a moderator. Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:18
  • 9
    Given that the question only has one answer and only one vote, I'm not sure that it's worth being undeleted. Not everything can be granted historical status. I'd say that it's a great candidate for a blog post (yours), but not of real historical interest on SO.
    – tvanfosson
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:21
  • 4
    It's not really an answer "to a question that had been asked on SO". Rather a not quite on-topic question was asked to accommodate the existing letter by Knuth.
    – sth
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:32
  • 3
    @sth The question (not a Question) was asked in the comments of another Question. This Question re-asked that question once the answer was available.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:35
  • 4
    You might also want to consider donating the originals to computerhistory.org
    – tvanfosson
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:40
  • 16
    Please stop creating tags that are ultra-specific. There is no reason to tag this question "knuth", as that's not a topic that is talked about frequently on meta or warrants its own tag. You did this on your last meta post was well (with the "reposting" tag).
    – casperOne
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:46
  • 7
    From now on I plan to refer to deletionists as "Knuth haters" Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:50
  • 3
    @Michael: Indeed, deletion itself should be referred to as "the Knuth-lear option", or simply "Knuthing". As in "Knuth 'em all!".
    – jscs
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 22:04
  • 8
    Wait, the entire hubbub that sparked I don't know how many rants was that question? I don't care who wrote the note, that is not on topic for Stack Overflow. Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 22:09
  • 3
    @casperOne, sorry. I was doing my best according to the guidelines I knew... they seem relevant to me! meta.stackexchange.com/questions/61307/… . PS, Try to have a more moderate tone of voice... you're a moderator after all, not a scolder! ;-) Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 23:08
  • 12
    Really? A question gets deleted and you immediately play the this-is-a-personal-attack-on-Donald-Knuth card? ಠ_ಠ
    – user149432
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 0:20
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    @Mark Harrison: I think he's referring to the gap between yesterday's deletion and your posting of this meta question. Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 1:14
  • 8
    @MarkHarrison From your archived version, linked in your question: Wow, It's hard to believe the Knuth-haters over on Stack Overflow deleted this. Yes, that's exactly what happened: people who loathe Knuth set out to delete it. My god, how devious! Are the Illuminati involved as well?
    – user149432
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 3:07
  • 2
    @MarkHarrison You really don't see anything absurd about immediately jumping to the most extreme and inflammatory rationale? Assigning malice aforethought (i.e., saying people who hate Knuth deleted the question) to a routine action is silly, not based on any evidence, and detracts from any defensible position you could've presented. All things being equal, the simplest reason (i.e., people thought the question —not Knuth—didn't meet the site's quality standards) tends to be the correct one.
    – user149432
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 4:31

3 Answers 3


Reading through the scans and the Wayback machine, how that question was ever on topic is a mystery. As a programmer.

Yes, it was a post that happened to fall on Stack Overflow because someone's personal blog did not have enough traffic or exposure to showcase a question about a quote which lead to a photo of a hand-written Knuth note.

That's a lot of unrest because someone was using Stack Overflow as their personal blog. And not in the actual programming solution way, but as a digression or aside to things.

If anything might belong on Knuth's Wikipedia article.

  • 1
    Don't be rude. If you're talking about me then address me directly instead of saying "someone" as if you didn't know who you were talking about. Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 23:14
  • Didn't realise who the gravatar was on the scan. Why wouldn't it be on topic on your blog then?
    – random
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 23:28
  • 1
    No worries then. markharrison.net is used for a lot of other things (primary as a proxy server when I worked in China) but it's not a blog. I have a stackoverflow directory where I put some images (before SO hosted images), and stuck the files there for posterity. I'm old enough that I'm pretty sure SO will outlive me, and therefore my hosting account! Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 23:37
  • 5
    @MarkHarrison: What about Wikipedia??? It would definitely be worth its own page linked off of the TAoCP page.
    – user1228
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 14:45
  • @Won't Wouldn't that violate Wikipedia:No original research?
    – Jeremy
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 19:41
  • 6
    @JeremyBanks: I give up. This won't be on topic anywhere.
    – user1228
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 20:04

Reading the comments on other answers, it seems you just want a place for it to live indefinitely that outlives your website. That cannot work on Stack Overflow. This is not the place to collect archives of great people in programming.

I have reposted the question in full on Quora for the time being. I highly believe your content is notable enough to be kept on Wikipedia under a subsection within TAOCP or Knuth. Please give it a try.

Did Knuth ever refer to TAOCP as the “most purchased, least read” computer science books?


Warning upvoters: I misread the historical answer, so this is a rewritten answer, and you may want to change your vote.

A note from Knuth written specifically to answer a question about something on SO sure is interesting. However, it's not a very on-topic question. I think this deserves some other presentation. It could be just a matter of applying the new 'historical interest' locking, but it seems as if it might be fun for the SO staff to have an area of the site which is material about the impact of the site on the real world, and this would make a great starting point.

  • 1
    I don't necessarily think it is an on-topic question, but I do believe the note was written for the purpose of providing an answer here (or where ever Mark intended, as DEK replied to him). See the enlarged views on Mark's website. DEK makes notes on Mark's letter to him and comments on Pixar's "Up" (a reference to where Mark works at). The scan and hastily patched images are Mark's attempt at putting them all in one place. Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:59
  • 1
    Hmm, upon rereading, I see your point.
    – Rosinante
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 22:05
  • 4
    According to the archives, among the first comment was "This content is better suited to your blog, rather than Stack Overflow." Which means it was never on topic and someone's blog did not have as much traffic as SO
    – random
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 22:14
  • 1
    yoda, that's correct. I had repeated the "most purchased, least read" quote as an answer to another question. It had the highest number of votes for the question, so went to the top. User @ShreevatsaR then called BS on me, asking for a source. Because I realized that I had provided an undocumented answer that might be used by other people, I felt I had a responsibility to clear the answer up. I knew Don slightly from some conferences we had both attended over the years, so I sent him the note asking him to clear things up, which he did. Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 22:45
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    (continued) I felt bad about spreading something incorrect, so was very happy to be able to provide an authoritative answer to the question. We had lunch a couple of weeks later, and I was personally thrilled that he know of SO and spoke in a rather complimentary tone about it. So I thought that it was quite a feather in the cap of a web site specifically devoted to computer programming to have gotten a hand-written response from the man himself regarding a question on the site. Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 22:51
  • @random, my primary blog is about homebrew UAV systems and aerial robotics ( eastbay-rc.blogspot.com ), so it wouldn't be a good fit there. As you can see from this comment in 2008 I note all my programming Q/A on SO and have been doing so for some time: stackoverflow.com/questions/237327/… Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 22:54

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