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By Guy L. Steele Jr., Richard P. Gabriel

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The macro is the most immediate example of a program written in a metalanguage. Because Lisp is its own metalanguage, the power of the entire programming language can be brought to bear on the task of transforming program text. By comparison, the C preprocessor is completely anemic; the macro language consists entirely of substitution and token concatenation. There are conditionals, and one may conditionally define a macro, but a C macro may not expand into such a conditional.

A related line of work allows the programmer to control the expansion process by explicitly passing around and manipulating expander functions [Dybvig, 1986]. All of these were intended as macro facilities for Scheme, previous methods being regarded as too deeply flawed for adoption into such an otherwise elegant language. Hygienic macros were developed in 1986 by Eugene Kohlbecker with assistance from Daniel Friedman, Matthias Felleisen, and Bruce Duba [Kohlbecker, 1986a]. The idea is to label the occurrences of variables with a tag indicating whether it appeared in the original source code or was introduced as a result of macro expansion; if multiple macro expansions occur, the tag must indicate which expansion step was involved.

We can see this by observing that only a person well-versed with how a particular Lisp is implemented can write efficient programs. Here is a perfectly nice piece of code: (defun make-matrix (n m) (let ((matrix ())) (dotimes (i n matrix) (push (make-list m) matrix)))) (defun add-matrix (m1 m2) (let ((l1 (length m1)) (l2 (length m2))) (let ((matrix (make-matrix l1 l2))) (dotimes (i l1 matrix) (dotimes (j l2) (setf (nth i (nth j matrix)) (+ (nth i (nth j m1)) (nth i (nth j m2))))))))) The expression to read and write a cell in a matrix looks perfectly harmless and fast as anything.

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[Article] The Evolution of Lisp by Guy L. Steele Jr., Richard P. Gabriel

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