Sometimes I find expressions like "do the Right Thing(TM)" in the world of computer science. For example,

Microsoft to C99 Developers: Use ISO C++ http://www.infoq.com/news/2012/05/vs_c99_support/

Step up to the plate and do the Right Thing(tm). If you don’t know what “Right Thing(tm)” means, then therein lies the real problem.

Managing Projects with GNU Make, Third Edition http://oreilly.com/catalog/make3/book/ch02.pdf

The compiler or linker will use the file suffix to determine the type of a particular file on the command line and do the Right Thing™:

What does TM stand for?


3 Answers 3


The Right Thing (or sometimes The Right Thing) is an old computing term (see the Jargon File entry for "Right Thing") whose meaning has somewhat changed over the years but (contrary to the Jargon File definition) in current use it often means that having two ways to go about doing something, reasonable people would agree that there is one correct way, hence "The Right Thing".

"TM" (often used as the single unicode symbol "™" or with parenthesis "(tm)"), is the Trademark Registration sign, which is used to convey that a party owns the specified phrase (at least in a usage category) by having it registered with a government trademark office.

Obviously "The Right Thing" in this case is not an actual registered trademark, but the use of the term was so common, with the capitalization - which is also how one uses trademarked names in technical documents, specifically for terms that normal people would have thought are standard English terms but some companies have managed to trademark, e.g. Windows™ - that many people have started adding "(tm)" after "Right Thing" as a half-joke and for extra emphasis.

While the use of "The Right Thing" is very early, the addition of the "(tm)" or trademark symbol is from the late 1990s, in usenet and open source software mailing lists.

In regards to mplungjan's answer, I don't believe this is a play on Coca Cola's trademarked phrase - this is 100% internal computer industry play on words, or play on how trademark was used to steal basic terms from the domain of the English language.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – gotube
    Aug 18, 2022 at 15:05
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    The (tm) symbol is actually for UNregistered trademarks in US usage. Registered trademarks use the "R in a circle" symbol ®, as specifies in the Lanhm Act (the Trademark Act of 1946). I suspect the 1979 Tom Wolfe book The Right Stuff may have had a part in the development of this phrase in CS, but I have no source for that. "Do the right thing" as an ethical order dates back quite some time, later echoed in the title of the Spike Lee film. Aug 18, 2022 at 16:52

It stands for Trademark

Trademarks are used to claim exclusive properties of products or services.

It is a computing term - Right Thing.

That which is compellingly the correct or appropriate thing to use, do, say, etc. Often capitalized, always emphasized in speech as though capitalized. Use of this term often implies that in fact reasonable people may disagree. “What's the right thing for LISP to do when it sees (mod a 0)? Should it return a, or give a divide-by-0 error?” Oppose Wrong Thing.

To underline how officially right the complier works, it even has the trademark added.

Etymology: It's likely possibly a play on the Coca Cola™ slogan Real Thing. It has been in use since 1942 especially in big campaigns since 1969 - it was not officially trademarked until 2004 but that does not mean people did not associate it with a trademarked brand

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    It may not be a joke. There are 45 applications and registrations in the US Trademark Office for phrases that are or include Do The Right Thing.
    – bib
    Feb 6, 2014 at 13:16
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    In this context it is a "joke". To do the "Right Thing" in programming is a standard phrase like "Good Thing". Unless GNU has trademarked this for their compiler, it is not a trademark here
    – mplungjan
    Feb 6, 2014 at 13:22
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    See c2.com/cgi/wiki?RightThing
    – BobRodes
    Feb 6, 2014 at 15:55
  • Ah, Forgot that one. I have read the whole thing and have the Hackers Dictionary in hardcover :)
    – mplungjan
    Feb 6, 2014 at 17:45

I know this is late, but it should also be noted that the TM can ALSO be a tongue-in-cheek way to say that something is manufactured or disingenuous, and not necessarily a reflection of the author's genuine feelings.

I did the right thingTM

could even indicate resentment or adherence to an objective standard which is not one's own.

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