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Syntax is something that comes up every now and then when we talk about programming languages. When people talk about Ruby they often mention how readable it is. Comments about Lisp usually include “minimal syntax” and such. Verbose is an adjective often associated with Java.

For some people syntax is not so important or at least not as important as semantics. The more languages I explore though, the more I get the feeling that syntax does matter and it matters a lot. In this episode of the Elixir Fountain, Dave Thomas mentions the book “The Timeless Way of Building” and the idea of “Quality without a name”. He was describing how there’s certain things in a language that make it very appealing to you but you can’t really point out and say exactly what they are. It’s a concept that applies to other areas outside of programming too.

It is precisely what I’m experiencing with Elixir currently. I was pairing with my apprentice the other day and I felt very comfortable reading his code and explaining line by line what was going on. In general I feel very comfortable reading code written by others in Elixir. I don’t have that though with something like Clojure. Perhaps it has too little syntax.

Syntax then is quite important. We spend hundreds of hours in code and if we don’t enjoy using the language then the semantics wont matter regardless of how good they are.

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