[Python-Dev] Infix operators

Sebastien Loisel loisel at temple.edu
Wed Jul 23 23:14:22 CEST 2008

Dear Pythonistas,

I've googled for this but I wasn't able to find anything definitive. I was
recently looking at scipy to see if I could use it in stead of MATLAB for my
class on numerical PDEs, but I noticed that there's some difficulty related
to the notation; mainly, the matrix multiplication, and the linear solver
(i.e., MATLAB's \ operator). After giving it some thought, I've decided to
hold back for now and use MATLAB.

Since scipy/numeric python have been around for a while and some of it is
even integrated in Python 2.5, I'm sure this conversation has happened
before, so please just educate me. Now I think that there's always going to
be people wanting more and more operators in Python (although the operators
I'm talking about are privileged -- the Chinese were using matrices some
2000 years ago), so I was thinking that it would be simpler to have a way
for defining new infix operators, which would simply be binary functions
whose names are punctuation marks; see any language with this feature, e.g.,

Now since this is such a simple idea, I'm guessing it occured to pythonistas
at some point in 1992, and got voted down and that decision has now become
scripture. Is that the case?

The one thing which I found was PEP 211
http://www.python.org/dev/peps/pep-0211/, which has an amazing quote from
James Rawlings. His comment about inv is completely absurd, and while he
claims not to know \ and /, he is quoted as an authority on these operators.
This particular PEP should probably be deleted from history. For a more
authoritative explanation, a quick search yields MathWorks' own Loren Shure:

Essentially, in almost all applications, inv(A) is entirely wrong. You can
ask any numerical analyst who works with large problems, and they will
confirm it. One of the main reason is that, even if A is sparse, inv(A) is

That absurdity aside, if I were a language designer, I would be reticent to
add one operator to Python (like in PEP 211), because there will always be
more operators that people want (how long until someone asks for an operator
for the Kronecker product or the convolution?) But why not put in this infix


Sébastien Loisel
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