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Strange Names

The name of the cons function is not unreasonable: it is an abbreviation of the word “construct”. The origins of the names for car and cdr, on the other hand, are esoteric: car is an acronym from the phrase “Contents of the Address part of the Register”; and cdr (pronounced “could-er”) is an acronym from the phrase “Contents of the Decrement part of the Register”. These phrases refer to specific pieces of hardware on the very early computer on which the original Lisp was developed. Besides being obsolete, the phrases have been completely irrelevant for more than 25 years to anyone thinking about Lisp. Nonetheless, although a few brave scholars have begun to use more reasonable names for these functions, the old terms are still in use. In particular, since the terms are used in the Emacs Lisp source code, we will use them in this introduction.