Programming Languages and Typography

Programming Languages and Typography

15 Jun 2020
Programming-Languages, Design

An analogy occurred to me this evening as I was thinking about programming language design:

Choosing good keywords and function names is like picking a good font; the ideas conveyed may be the same, but a change can drastically impact legibility and enjoyment of use.

PHP does a spectacular job of providing a bad example. It’s like the Comic Sans of programming languages. Now there are many reasons why PHP is not a good language—I’d like to investigate this particular aspect of its design here briefly.

There are ~55 functions in PHP that start with array_. Why? Why would you need to call the map operator array_map? Or array_filter, etc. Most other languages just call it map and leave it at that.

You might argue that that is a superficial difference: you are still doing the same thing so the expressive power of PHP is the same as whatever other languages you are comparing it to. I disagree. That extra clutter of the array_ prefix should not be there and it’s purely clutter.

A bad font changes the tone and the perception of a body of text. Likewise, shoddy selection of keywords and names in a language changes it’s tone and feel.

Other examples:

  • Java
  • PHP’s function keyword and other similar atrocities
  • Common Lisp (the length of its function names are a shortcoming)

I’ll continue fleshing this iut more, but these are my thoughts at the present