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Paul Kimmel

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Why You Shouldn't Use Prefix Notations Revisited

October 31, 2010

From birth humans, people are trained to read real words. The eye is drawn to them, it seeks them out, and it recognizes them. Context and usage tells one more about the meaning of code than a prefix notation. Prefix notations are unsightly, harder to read, and they just plain make code ugly.

As software developers we used prefix notations with weakly typed languages like C to give us a cue to help us make mistakes. Languages have been strongly typed for a long time now but old habits seem to die hard. It is long past time that prefix notations are permitted to die a graceful death.

Use nouns to convey meaning, verbs to convey actions, and context to indicate proper usage. The compiler does the rest. If you must add whole sentence comments to explain things. However, if a function is short and concise and well-named with whole words even comments are superfluous. If, you are annotating code with XML comments that a tool can turn into automatic useful documentation then comment away by all means.

A better use of your time would be to spell check code and comments. Misspelled code is as ugly as prefix notations, but programming environments don't have spell checkers. Prefix notations in code were intended as cues for weakly typed languages. We no longer use weakly typed languages, so its time that prefix notations were allowed to gracefully go into that good night.

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