Discussion on: The Idea of Lisp

ericnormand profile image
Eric Normand Author

Thanks for the clarifications and discussion. It's always good to read deeper and you've challenged me to clarify further.

"You have overstated the case here, in particular. Certainly FORTRAN had multicharacter variable names, IAL did too as did ALGOL 58. I am pretty sure Hopper's Autocode did."

Yeah. Fortran allows 1-6 character variable names. But look at the code. Lots of X, Y, I, J, K for variable names. That's what I meant: they were just following math's lead and rarely naming variables the way we would today.

"According to McCarthy, the conditional expression in Algol was proposed by Backus. See footnote 2."

Yes, the footnote is correct but very terse and can read ambiguously. McCarthy's syntax was not chosen, but the idea for how it worked was. Backus merely suggested new syntax(if..then..else..). See nyu.edu/classes/jcf/CSCI-GA.2110-0...

"Also McCarthy did not develop LISP on his own, he had a number of collaborators."

No argument there. He was working closely with a number of very smart people during the Dartmouth Summer Research Project, and McCarthy has been very forthcoming about the influences. I will grant that I took some poetic license to shorten the story. The first Lisp was actually written by Steve Russell from McCarthy's design.

However, as far as I'm aware, no one has ever contested him for being the inventor of Lisp. For those reading, I suggest reading the following if you're interested:


vyodaiken profile image
victor yodaiken

The book excerpt is great. Who knew that McCarthy, who I used to argue with online in the early days of USENET and was deeply right wing, had communist labor union organizer parents and had been inspired by a Soviet Era children's science book? I had to look it up: ebay.co.uk/itm/100-000-Whys-A-Trip...