There is some history in Java using @ initially as a marker in Javadoc comments  and later in Java 1.5 for annotations , which are similar to Python decorators. The fact that @ was previously unused as a token in Python also means it's clear there is no possibility of such code being parsed by an earlier version of Python, leading to possibly subtle semantic bugs. It also means that ambiguity of what is a decorator and what isn't is removed. That said, @ is still a fairly arbitrary choice. Some have suggested using | instead.
The current method for transforming functions and methods (for instance, declaring them as a class or static method) is awkward and can lead to code that is difficult to understand. Ideally, these transformations should be made at the same point in the code where the declaration itself is made. This PEP introduces new syntax for transformations of a function or method declaration.
Using functions with "action-at-a-distance" through sys.settraceback may be okay for an obscure feature that can't be had any other way yet doesn't merit changes to the language, but that's not the situation for decorators. The widely held view here is that decorators need to be added as a syntactic feature to avoid the problems with the postfix notation used in 2.2 and 2.3. Decorators are slated to be an important new language feature and their design needs to be forward-looking, not constrained by what can be implemented in 2.3.
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