Larry Wall's comment on python...

François Pinard pinard at
Fri Sep 6 16:00:14 EDT 2002

[brueckd at]

> The very idea of Larry Wall lecturing on code readability is hilarious.

While I understand the sentiment, history adds some perspective.

I've been following Perl since version 1, and in the beginnings, despite the
syntax was admittedly eclectic, Perl was much easier to read then, than now.
Perl grew many $X variables where X was a special character, but in the state
of the things at the time, it was still bearable.

The legibility problem developed progressively when adding things to Perl,
while trying to stay compatible to what it was.  Running out of special
characters, $X started to use control characters.  The very notion of
announcing the type of something to a prefix character ($%@&) did not mix well
when references and more complex structures were added.  Larry made an effort
to clean out the syntax a bit when going from Perl 4 to Perl 5, but the damage
was already too intense for the cleanup to be effective, also considered that
the cleanup just could not be too drastic, to protect the existing code base.

I take Larry Wall as a nice and clever guy.  Perl does not marry so well with
evolution, and this is probably the doom of all languages which do not enough
foresee evolution, and overly praise backward compatibility.  On the other
hand, too much rapid or drastic changes might erode the user base or make it
less solid.  Equilibrium is a very difficult art.

François Pinard

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