[mercury-users] Another indexing proposal (was mercury websit e (was Suggestion: new operator))

Fergus Henderson fjh at cs.mu.OZ.AU
Sat Oct 21 18:55:43 AEDT 2000

On 21-Oct-2000, Peter Schachte <schachte at cs.mu.OZ.AU> wrote:
> Why does it always seem to be syntax issues that are the most divisive?

I once went to a talk given by Philip Wadler, where he went through a
progression of the kinds of issues that arose in the development of
Haskell, from the ones for which consensus was easiest to reach
through to the ones that raised the longest debates.  He said the
easiest issues to agree on were the complex semantic issues, while
syntax was the hardest to agree on.  Even within the category of
syntax, the syntax for program constructs such as expressions was
easiest, the syntax for comments was second-hardest, and the single
issue which they spent the most time debating about was whitespace!

I think it comes down to a couple of related points.
Syntax is an issue on which EVERYONE can have an opinion.
In contrast, the difficulty of understanding complex
semantic issues immediately cuts down the number of people
who can even have an opinion on them.  For subjects that are
complex and difficult to understand, people are much more willing to
trust the judgement of others who have more expertise in that
particular area.  But for syntax, everyone can have an opinion,
and, since syntax is mostly a matter of aesthetics, to a first
approximation everyone's opinion is equally valid.

Fergus Henderson <fjh at cs.mu.oz.au>  |  "I have always known that the pursuit
WWW: <http://www.cs.mu.oz.au/~fjh>  |  of excellence is a lethal habit"
                                    |     -- the last words of T. S. Garp.
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