String Oriented Symbolic Language

<language> (SNOBOL) A string processing language for text and formula manipulation, developed by David J. Farber, Ralph E. Griswold and Ivan P. Polonsky at Bell Labs in 1962.

SNOBOL had only simple control structures but provided a rich string-matching formalism of power comparable to regular expressions but implemented differently.

People used it for simple natural language processing analysis tasks well into the 1980s.

Since then, Perl has come into favour for such tasks.

SNOBOL was originally called "SEXI" - String EXpression Interpreter.

In spite of the suggestive name, SNOBOL is not related to COBOL.

Farber said the name SNOBOL was largely contrived at the time the original JACM article was published when one of the implementors said something like, "This program doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of ...".

The expansion to "String Oriented Symbolic Language" was contrived later.

Implementations include (in no particular order): SNOBOL2, SNOBOL3, SNOBOL4, FASBOL, SITBOL, MAINBOL, SPITBOL and vanilla.

See also EZ, Poplar, SIL and Icon.


David Farber (

Ralph Griswold (

["SNOBOL, A String Manipulating Language", R. Griswold et al, J ACM 11(1):21, Jan 1964].

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