10.2.2 Symbol Forms

When a symbol is evaluated, it is treated as a variable. The result is the variable’s value, if it has one. If the symbol has no value as a variable, the Lisp interpreter signals an error. For more information on the use of variables, see Variables.

In the following example, we set the value of a symbol with setq. Then we evaluate the symbol, and get back the value that setq stored.

(setq a 123)
     ⇒ 123
(eval 'a)
     ⇒ 123
     ⇒ 123

The symbols nil and t are treated specially, so that the value of nil is always nil, and the value of t is always t; you cannot set or bind them to any other values. Thus, these two symbols act like self-evaluating forms, even though eval treats them like any other symbol. A symbol whose name starts with ‘:’ also self-evaluates in the same way; likewise, its value ordinarily cannot be changed. See Variables that Never Change.