Definitions for tanstaafl
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The New Hacker's Dictionary
[acronym, from Robert Heinlein's classic SF novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.] “There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”, often invoked when someone is balking at the prospect of using an unpleasantly heavyweight technique, or at the poor quality of some piece of software, or at the signal-to-noise ratio of unmoderated Usenet newsgroups. “What? Don't tell me I have to implement a database back end to get my address book program to work!” “Well, TANSTAAFL you know.” This phrase owes some of its popularity to the high concentration of science-fiction fans and political libertarians in hackerdom (see Appendix B for discussion).Outside hacker circles the variant TINSTAAFL (“There is No Such Thing...”) is apparently more common, and can be traced back to 1952 in the writings of ethicist Alvin Hansen. TANSTAAFL may well have arisen from it by mutation.
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch
"There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" is a popular adage communicating the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. The acronyms TANSTAAFL and TINSTAAFL, and initialism TNSTAAFL, are also used. Uses of the phrase dating back to the 1930s and 1940s have been found, but the phrase's first appearance is unknown. The "free lunch" in the saying refers to the nineteenth-century practice in American bars of offering a "free lunch" in order to entice drinking customers. The phrase and the acronym are central to Robert Heinlein's 1966 science-fiction novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which helped popularize it. The free-market economist Milton Friedman also popularized the phrase by using it as the title of a 1975 book, and it is used in economics literature to describe opportunity cost. Campbell McConnell writes that the idea is "at the core of economics".
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