[R] R, S, S-Plus, whence comes thy name?

(Ted Harding) Ted.Harding at manchester.ac.uk
Fri Mar 26 15:03:21 CET 2010

On 26-Mar-10 12:30:37, John Sorkin wrote:
> I appeal to those entrusted with the keeping of the R flame,
> the S flame, and the S-Plus flame to relate a bit of history.
> How did S, S-Plus, and R get their names? Going from S to S-Plus
> appears clear, a commercial company purchased rights to S,
> developed a product that they wanted to indicate was related to S,
> but was more fully developed. This leaves me with only a rumor
> how S got its original name and how R got its name. Some sources
> suggest that R is named after Robert Gentleman and Ross Ihaka the
> titans who gave birth to R. The origin of the name S is less clear.
> Citations would be appreciated, so to would statements from the
> titans from the days of yore. 
> Thank you,
> John

For S, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S_(programming_language)

I have the 1984 book "S: An Interactive Environment for Data
Analysis and Graphics" by Ricjard A. Becker and John M. Chambers,
and have looked through its Preface, Contents and Index without
finding anything that points to how the name "S" was chosen.
However, it has always been my memory that "S" was chosen because
it stood for "Statistics". The additional reference in the Wikipedia
article to the "C" language reflects a typical pun-ridden Bell Labs
environment. In the beginning was BCPL, developed at Cambridge (UK)
in the 1960s. When Unix started to be developed at Bell Labs in the
late 1960s, Ken Thompson developed the "B" (being a stripped-down
version of "BCPL") language; though I'm sure he was aware that "B"
also stood for "Bell". Then Thompson and Ritchie, needing a better
language for Unix in the early 1970s, developed "B" into "New B"
(?"newbie"?), and then into C.

So "C" could be seen also as the natural (alphabetical) successor
to "B".

As to R and S, we have a FAQ about it:
"2.12 Why is R named R?
The name is partly based on the (first) names of the first two R
authors (Robert Gentleman and Ross Ihaka), and partly a play on
the name of the Bell Labs language `S' (see What is S?)."

This leads you on to the FAQ:
"What is S?"
which doea not, however, say anything about why S is called "S".

But it finally leads you to:
where you can find (on what must be the most authoritative basis):

"Did you notice a certain uncertainty about what to call the thing?
We started out with System, then added Language, then switched to
Environment; with the next version, we would switch back to Language
and drop System. We were sure, however, that we wanted to avoid the P
word: S was not to be considered a statistical package in the usual
sense of the term."

But it gives no reason for the choice of "S". So, authoritatively,
we are left with an enigma. Which is probably what they intended.


E-Mail: (Ted Harding) <Ted.Harding at manchester.ac.uk>
Fax-to-email: +44 (0)870 094 0861
Date: 26-Mar-10                                       Time: 14:03:19
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