(Guy Steele and Richard Gabriel on a question that I predict
will arise more and more, though from the other direction, as
mainstream languages approach Lisp.)
The idea of introducing Algol-like syntax into Lisp keeps popping up
and has seldom failed to create enormous controversy between those who
find the universal use of S-expressions a technical advantage (and
don't mind the admitted relative clumsiness of S-expressions for
numerical expressions) and those who are certain that algebraic syntax
is more concise, more convenient, or even more natural (whatever
that may mean, considering that all these notations are artificial).
We conjecture that Algol-style syntax has not really caught on in the
Lisp community as a whole for two reasons. First, there are not
enough special symbols to go around. When your domain of discourse is
limited to numbers or characters, there are only so many operations of
interest, so it is not difficult to assign one special character to
each and be done with it. But Lisp has a much richer domain of
discourse, and a Lisp programmer often approaches an application as
yet another exercise in language design; the style typically involves
designing new data structures and new functions to operate on
them-- perhaps dozens or hundreds-- and it's too hard to invent that
many distinct symbols (though the APL community certainly has tried).
Ultimately one must always fall back on a general function-call
notation; it's just that Lisp programmers don't wait until they fail.
Second, and perhaps more important, Algol-style syntax makes programs
look less like the data structures used to represent them. In a
culture where the ability to manipulate representations of programs is
a central paradigm, a notation that distances the appearance of a
program from the appearance of its representation as data is not
likely to be warmly received (and this was, and is, one of the
principal objections to the inclusion of loop in Common Lisp).
On the other hand, precisely because Lisp makes it easy to play with
program representations, it is always easy for the novice to
experiment with alternative notations. Therefore we expect future
generations of Lisp programmers to continue to reinvent Algol-style
syntax for Lisp, over and over and over again, and we are equally
confident that they will continue, after an initial period of
infatuation, to reject it. (Perhaps this process should be regarded
as a rite of passage for Lisp hackers.)
- Steele and Gabriel, "The Evolution of Lisp"