failing like never before


OCaml Infix Notation and Parenthesis

So when I first picked up LISP, I found myself hating everything about the language, from its distinctively un-C-like functional style, to the inordinate number of parenthesis required by the syntax. But before long, I found myself accidentally writing my math homework in prefix notation and putting parenthesis around all of my sentences, just out of pure habit. With time, I began to find the LISP style more relaxing to develop in, and started to understand the stark beauty of the language. A few months after my first excursion into LISP, I was telling people how LISP was the most beautiful language ever created.

Now, enter OCaml, a functional language free from legacy cruft, and inspired in some form from LISP. I thought I would love being able to develop in a LISP-like language without having to worry about ending statements with a dozen end-parenthesis (which I thought to be LISP's only big syntax flaw), but I found the lack of required parenthesis initially quite awkward. Yes, there are a lot of insipid little parenthesis in LISP, but the point of them is to clarify the code and they do! Parenthesis are what allow LISP to have such simple and easy to understand syntax. (Lets face it, Ocaml just doesn't have the "Its full of cars!" sort of easily understood syntax.) Of course, since OCaml makes parenthesis optional in most cases, one could simply add parenthesis to everything in OCaml, much as one would in LISP. I got over the parenthesis business in OCaml quite quickly, although I still miss them quite a bit.

The one thing I could never get over however, was the weird way OCaml uses built-in operators (like '+', '-', '/', etc.) in infix notation, but has all other functions used in typical prefix notation. By enclosing an operator in parenthesis, it can then be used in prefix notation, but this is a little clunky. I would think that it would be better to force all aspects of the language to follow the same common rules in order to reduce confusion, but the OCaml designers were apparently following a different line of reason from mine.

Although OCaml's odd mix of infix and prefix notation has remained a thorn in my side whenever I lay hand to keyboard to bang out some OCaml code, I've nevertheless managed to gain a good understanding of the language. I've also started to find the usefulness of the language, but my heart still pines for LISP...

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