In the SO thread “Why is a pure virtual function initialized by 0?” Jerry Coffin provided this quote from Bjarne Stroustrup’s The Design & Evolution of C++, section §13.2.3, where I’ve added some emphasis of the part I think is relevant:
=0syntax was chosen over the obvious alternative of introducing a new keyword pure or abstract because at the time I saw no chance of getting a new keyword accepted. Had I suggested pure, Release 2.0 would have shipped without abstract classes. Given a choice between a nicer syntax and abstract classes, I chose abstract classes. Rather than risking delay and incurring the certain fights over pure, I used the tradition C and C++ convention of using 0 to represent “not there.” The
=0syntax fits with my view that a function body is the initializer for a function and also with the (simplistic, but usually adequate) view of the set of virtual functions being implemented as a vector of function pointers. [ … ]
So, when choosing the syntax Bjarne was thinking of a function body as a kind of initializer part of the declarator, and
=0 as an alternate form of initializer, one that indicated “no body” (or in his words, “not there”).
It stands to reason that one cannot both indicate “not there” and have a body – in that conceptual picture.
Or, still in that conceptual picture, having two initializers.
Now, that’s as far as my telepathic powers, google-foo and soft-reasoning goes. I surmise that nobody’s been Interested Enough™ to formulate a proposal to the committee about having this purely syntactical restriction lifted, and following up with all the work that that entails. Thus it’s still that way.