293: RTFM

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Life is too short for man pages, and occasionally much too short without them.
Title text: Life is too short for man pages, and occasionally much too short without them.


The title RTFM is an acronym for "read the fucking manual," which frustrated software manufacturers tell users when confronted with a simple question (most likely answered in the manual).

However, Cueball encounters a similar situation with a 911 call (the emergency number in the US), in which the first question the 911 dispatcher asks is if Cueball has read the toaster's man page (man pages are the 'manual' for unix systems, but only describe commands and library functions, not hardware). Even if a man page existed, it is unreasonable to require the user of a toaster to read the manual simply to avoid being stabbed in the face.[citation needed] The 911 dispatcher decides that as Cueball has not read the man page, he is not entitled to medical assistance, and so hangs up.

As such, the comic is satirizing people who respond to requests for advice for unclear, complicated tools with references to esoteric documentation rather than any help.

The title text refers to the popular phrase "Life's too short," which asserts that because we only have a limited amount of time on Earth, and that time can pass by quickly, we should make the most of it. That could mean, for example, don't spend time reading the documentation unless you actually experience a problem. The second part suggests that some people actually die because they didn't RTFM!


[Cueball with a knife sticking out of his heavily bleeding face stands in front of a toaster on a counter, which has an arm extending from the top of it. He is holding a telephone to his ear.]
Cueball: Hello, 911? I just tried to toast some bread, and the toaster grew an arm and stabbed me in the face!
911: Did you read the toaster's man page first?
Cueball: Well, no, but all I wanted was--
911: click

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RTFM wasn't something you'd generally hear from the software makers. It was what assholes in supposed support forums would say instead of actually helping. For example, on the IRC there was generally a #Linux, where people might go to look for help with the OS. But the admins and members would often, literally, reply RTFM unless the question was obscure enough to satisfy them. At best, they'd respond with a link to some man or web page where they thought you should be able to learn enough to eventually answer your question. A friend of mine set up a competing channel, which we called #Linpeople, where we would actually answer questions that regular people asked, not just esoteria. I also came up with a way to wring answers from #Linux: I owned my own ISP, so I would set up identd (the service that validated user identity) to spoof being a user from another system, log in from both my and another "user", and then give ridiculous, bad answers to my own questions. The assholes would be outraged at the wrong info, and correct it, thus letting slip the real solution. — Kazvorpal (talk) 22:24, 3 November 2019 (UTC)

In this writer's opinion, expecting anyone to read a manual that is more than a page or two long, in this Internet-speed era, is unreasonable. 18:30, 30 October 2015 (UTC)

Not reading a manual is punishable by being stabbed in the face...I think we can all blame the customer service people for this one. Speaking from their point of view, though, it's definitely a great feature! 15:32, 12 March 2017 (UTC)

...or losing the face... 15:31, 12 January 2018 (UTC)

Only a few words, ............ :P Dontknow (talk) 05:04, 7 May 2017 (UTC)

Just a thought, but if the official documentation (or even worse, a manpage) counts as "esoteric documentation" then what is the non-esoteric one? The first awser on quora? That being said, I don't know how well this joke translates outdide the Linux ecosystem, since in other places people will most likely just ignore you.Xandru (talk) 17:22, 27 May 2024 (UTC)

This is exactly the reason I need explainxkcd. How the hell would I have known what a "man page" is? - 05:41, 24 June 2024 (UTC)