Why is there no natural syntax for accessing attributes with names not being valid identifiers?

Antoon Pardon antoon.pardon at rece.vub.ac.be
Wed Dec 4 11:29:06 CET 2013

Op 04-12-13 11:09, rusi schreef:
> On Wednesday, December 4, 2013 2:27:28 PM UTC+5:30, Ian wrote:
>> On Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 11:31 PM, rusi  wrote:
>>> Its a more fundamental problem than that:
>>> It emerges from the OP's second post) that he wants '-' in the attributes.
>>> Is that all?
>>> Where does this syntax-enlargement stop? Spaces? Newlines?
>> At non-strings.
>>>>> setattr(foo, 21+21, 42)
>> Traceback (most recent call last):
>>   File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
>> TypeError: attribute name must be string, not 'int'
> Not sure what's your point. 
> OP wants attribute identifiers like outer_fieldset-inner_fieldset-third_field.
> Say I have a python expression: 
> obj.outer_fieldset-inner_fieldset-third_field
> It can (in the proposed extension) be parsed as above, or as:
> obj.outer_fieldset - inner_fieldset-third_field
> the first hyphen being minus and the second being part of the identifier.
> How do we decide which '-' are valid identifier components -- hyphens
> and which minus-signs?
> So to state my point differently:
> The grammar of python is well-defined
> It has a 'sub-grammar' of strings that is completely* free-for-all ie just
> about anything can be put into a string literal.
> The border between the orderly and the wild world are the quote-marks.
> Remove that border and you get complete grammatical chaos.
> [Maybe I should have qualified my reference to 'spaces'.
> Algol-68 allowed spaces in identifiers (for readability!!)
> The result was chaos]
> I used the spaces case to indicate the limit of chaos. Other characters (that
> already have uses) are just as problematic.

I don't agree with the latter. As it is now python can make the
distinction between

from A import B    and     fromAimportB.

I see no a priori reason why this should be limited to letters. A
language designer might choose to allow a bigger set of characters
in identifiers like '-', '+' and others. In that case a-b would be
an identifier and a - b would be the operation. Just as in python
fromAimportB is an identifier and from A import B is an import

Antoon Pardon

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