Lisp vs Perl Syntax, the Cult Problem

By Xah Lee. Date:

the syntax war of computer languages, is mostly fueled by hot air.

there is rarely any voice at all, from a syntax expert. Note: a syntax expert is not someone who have designed a language, nor someone (you) who “O, i've programed in 10 languages”. A syntax expert is someone who have studied syntax, notations, writing systems, their history, their design, their possibilities, their nature, their relation to cognizance.

a syntax expert, like so many micro fields of esoteric knowledge in our modern complex world, doesn't even have a name. (they might wear the hat of a logician, mathematician, computer scientist, computer language researcher, linguist, math historian, but 99% of professionals of these hats, are not syntax experts in any way.)

recently, a friend, Jon C Snader, wrote a blog that alerted me to a recent discussion on lisp syntax. In his blog, it is mentioned, that John D Cook (a mathematician, acquaintance), wrote a blog on this issue.

Jon Snader is a lisper. John Cook is not (but is a mathematical programer in other languages). Their opinions differ. You can easily guess who's on which side.

The central issue, is whether lisp's monotonic syntax is a problem.

In a Twitter comment, Jean-PhilippeParadis (a Common Lisp programer) made a quip to the effect of: all objections of lisp syntax problem is just speculative.

That made me ANGRY. Unfortunately, i am incapable of becoming a green giant to smack him down.

I will stick to my usual awkward manners and speak of my mind directly here.

of all things speculative, that speculative remark is most speculative of all.

Of the past 3 decades, lispers, i mean expert lispers, have continuously complained and came up with ways to fix the lisp syntax problem. That's evidence right there that it is not a speculative problem. [see LISP Infix Syntax Survey]

The very issue, of beginners having problem with lisp syntax, is a de facto, un-ignorable problem of the lisp syntax. Sure, you can get used to it, but then you can get used to any sort of garbage as well. Human animals has tenacity. People even do painting on nail heads, etc. We landed on the moon, at a time when we don't even have much of a computer. (we landed on the moon in 1969; pocket electronic calculator are available in 1970s)

Of course, the nested parenthesis is a identity of lisp, so, any negative criticism on it is tantamount to attacking lispers. It has become a norm, a cult, that lispers will deny and defend it, to the death.

the lisper's defense of lisp syntax, 90% of it are so scientifically baseless, to a degree that providing argument on it is like debating religious beliefs.

by the way, same thing with many emacs ways. (and unix)

the core problem, is the cult brewing and cult status. (same issue with many cults, or religion. [see Scientology and Falun Gong])

Unix, has a cult (For example, Unix Philosophy). Lisp, has a cult (For example, Lambda Knight). Emacs, has a cult (For example, Church of Emacs). Perl, has a cult (Perl Mongers). (not to mention Apple, OpenSource, FSF-Free software, eXtreme Programing, Agile Programing) Just to give a context, what lang that is not much of a cult?, for example: PHP, JavaScript, Mathematica, or org such as EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). Culty tech are affiliated with quips, mantras, philosophies.

When you come to a tech that has a strong cult aura, maybe the tech is still good, but most of its mantra, lore, are likely untainted bullshit.

I'm not going to give my reasons about lisp syntax this or that way. Because, from my experience, doesn't matter what you say, lispers will have heard nothing. This cannot be fixed, unless you get rid of the religion.

PS if you really want to see reasons, see:

Google Plus discussion 2013-06-23