Why don't people like lisp?

Pascal Costanza costanza at web.de
Mon Oct 20 13:07:41 CEST 2003

Ville Vainio wrote:
> Edi Weitz <edi at agharta.de> writes:
>>Yeah, sure. And 95% of all computer users use Windows so it must be
>>the best OS. You know the "50 million flies" saying?
> Yep, but when exposed to a clearly superior language, one might assume
> that at least a part of the students would get the clue and keep on
> using it after the course.

In fact this happens. There are people out there who get it and stick to 
Lisp. It's true that the majority doesn't do it (yet?), but that's 
because Lisp doesn't give you instant rewards. I guess it takes 
considerably longer to learn Lisp so that you can use it effectively, in 
the sense that you can go beyond the stage that you can maximally get at 
in other languages. (Also think about the possible net effects of 
instructors who try to teach Lisp without having gotten it themselves. 
Especially in the functional programming camp, there are people who see 
Lisp as just a prelude to languages like ML and Haskell. This misses 
some important points.)

All in all, these things are hard to measure. I have first learned about 
Lisp about 10-15 years ago, and then completely forgot about it. It was 
only about one and a half years ago that I have rediscovered it. In the 
meantime, I have learned a lot about restrictions that most languages 
impose on me as a programmer. Now I can really appreciate the expressive 
power of Lisp and the degree to which unnecessary restrictions don't 
bother me anymore in Lisp. This wouldn't have been possible 15 years 
ago. Now do you really think the fact that I have "dissed" Lisp at first 
tells us something really important about the language other than that I 
was just too inexperienced to be able to appreciate it?

And in the meantime the world is continuously moving in the direction of 
more dynamic and less restricted languages. Otherwise other languages 
before Python would have been enough already. I think there is a pattern 
involved here, and I am pretty sure that it will ultimately lead to 
something that is as powerful as Lisp is today.

This is not just a fanatical rant of a religious follower, although it 
may sound like that. However, you can objectively point out the 
ingredients that make Lisp the mother of all languages in a certain 
sense. See http://www.paulgraham.com/rootsoflisp.html


Pascal Costanza               University of Bonn
mailto:costanza at web.de        Institute of Computer Science III
http://www.pascalcostanza.de  Römerstr. 164, D-53117 Bonn (Germany)

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