The HOW and the WHAT

No, a low-level programming language is not defined by being closer to the metal. And high-level programming is not defined for being closer to English. Heck, BASIC was probably the closest to English, and you’d be hard pressed to defend that it’s higher-level than Haskell. Which is probably as difficult to understand for a native English speaker as any real programming language can get, with the sole exception of APL.

Anyway, indeed, some of those things are true. But they are only secondary attributes. They are like the fact that vi allows you to do much more in less keystrokes than any other editor: the core reason is that vi was designed to work over 300 baud phone lines, and this involved, among many other things, reducing keystrokes – but this was not the goal, but a side-effect.

Lower-level programming languages are created first, higher-level programming languages are created afterwards, in order to make programmers’ lives less painful. You know, programming is in some aspects very similar to being tortured: you have to keep dozens (if not hundreds) of things in mind while you write every line of code. And if you forget any of them, you write a bug – and you don’t know right away. Back in the day when the web wasn’t gobbling up all other platforms like The Nothing in Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, you used C++ and the compiler would punish you with a basic warning or error for most cases, which is similar to getting a little pinch. Nowadays, it’s Javascript or Python, and you will be punished for the bug with a crash in front of your user or customer, which makes the minimum torture threshold more similar to getting a nail torn out.

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