I'm not asking why reserved words are a bad idea, just opining that I think having 100 single- and double-character symbols might not be the best UI for a language. Why not have just names (neither reserved like keywords nor inscrutable like symbols?)
I don't know, I am similarly annoyed by mathematicians because they usually use single letters for variables. It's a little more excusable for them because math functions are usually very short and have few variables, but still I'd rather use words. But I digress.
It's a different approach to learning that I think favors the actual learning curve, not the perceived learning curve.
Your brain is actually built to memorize symbols like this. (I feel I know the learning process pretty well because I have toddler-aged kids who are also learning Chinese.) Of course, kids are not grownups, but even for grownups the process of binding symbol->meaning is easier than it looks like it should be.
Also, when you have name->meaning, the name inevitably is chosen for orthographic reasons and supplies its own meaning, which may mislead from the actual definition of the primitive. If you bind a symbol directly to a semantics, you lose this source of confusion. It is replaced (ideally) by an odd sense of "seeing the function," which I think is also present in experienced Perl ninjas.