pronouncing glyphs (W

Skip to first unread message

David Emmerson

Apr 16, 1993, 9:54:00 AM4/16/93
Jeff Delpapa said to All about Re: pronouncing glyphs (W on 04-16-93 11:58 :

JD> I use asterix

That's gaul-ing. I prefer asterisk.

... Open mouth, insert foot, echo internationally.
___ Blue Wave/QWK v2.12

Keith Willis

Apr 19, 1993, 12:09:00 PM4/19/93

DB> >>( is pronounced "paren"
DB> >But you don't know which one -- thus I have open-paren and close-paren, and
DB> >paren-pair which drops in two, and puts the cursor between them.

DB> 'Left banana' and 'Right banana'...

Good grief.


. PQ 2.15 194 . Well _everything_ is either physics or stamp collecting !!

Mikko Rantanen

Apr 21, 1993, 3:57:53 AM4/21/93
In article <> (Keith Willis) writes:
>DB>>> ( is pronounced "paren"
>DB>> But you don't know which one -- thus I have open-paren and close-paren,
>DB>> and paren-pair which drops in two, and puts the cursor between them.

>DB> 'Left banana' and 'Right banana'...
> Good grief.
> :-)

Just to make things even more complicated, I'd like to announce that
I have always thought parenthesises have been referred to as

"(" = paren
")" = thesis.

The idea about right and left bananas is good, though.

Mikko Rantanen
E-Mail: or

Edward Rice

Apr 23, 1993, 6:11:01 PM4/23/93
KW> From: (Keith Willis)

DB> 'Left banana' and 'Right banana'...

KW> Good grief.

Argue with Wm. Safire. Here's a column he wrote a while back. (Sorry,
to get it into the IBM/UNIX world, I had to get rid of the nasty old
WYSIWYG formatting.)

From The New York Times (Magazine Section), June 30, 1991

On Language
by William Safire

# @ / \ ( ) ! =
Hash, At, Slash, Backslash,
Open, Close, Bang

The prefixes meta- and mega- — no. Stop. Belay that. Something
is bothering me and I cannot write on today's chosen subject.

That is because the first key I punched on my computer keyboard
has an arrow pointing upward on it; in the typewriter era, before
anybody who matters today was born, that was just the shift key,
so named because it shifted the keyboard into uppercase. I call
it the bus-stop sign because bus stops in Manhattan used to have
signs in the shape of arrows pointing upward, but they're gone,
presumably because people waiting for the buses got stiff necks
looking at the sky.

Most people still call it the shift key, even though nothing moves
mechanically, because it still changes the letters to capitals.
The hackers have not changed it to uparrow because in an era they
call “early ASCII” — that American Standard Code for Information
Interchange — they used uparrow for the symbol you can sometimes
find over the number 6, which those of us in the language dodge
who need help in pronouncing vowel sounds call the circumflex;
more often, hackers call an upward-aimed arrowhead control, and
most often of all, the simple hat.

(When used at the bottom of a line in proofreading, the same
upward pointing symbol for “insert here” is called the caret, from
the Latin, carere, “to be without.” On my word processor
keyboard, over the comma, I have a caret that is pointed to the
left, which may mean “derived from” to dictionary readers, but is
now called a less than; over the period, or dot, it appears
pointed to the right, and has been dubbed a greater than. People
who call them angle brackets are considered <bright.)

@ any rate, as I was holding down the shift key, I hit the little
a with the tail around it — it's on top of the 2 — because I have
been instructed by Judith Wilner, Ed Gravely, and their brave band
of technologists at The New York Times that if I do not do so,
nothing that I write will ever go anywhere.

The question hit me: what do you call that little a with the tail?
I called Bob Costello, new editorial director @ Houghton Mifflin,
publishers of the American Heritage Dictionary. He took a poll of
lexicographers and replied: “It's called the at sign.” Good name
for a sign standing for “at,” as in “two mainframes @ 400 G's a
throw.” Although some computer whizzes have been known to call
the at sign a snail, we can go with at.

What other unfamiliarly named symbols do I stare @ all day? We
have previously discussed the pound sign, also called the number
sign, crosshatch and octothorpe. What's the curved line that
looks like a quizzical eyebrow? “That's a tilde,” Mr. Costello
said, “and it tells you how to pronounce the n in señor.” It's a
Spanish word from the Latin term for a tiny diacritical mark used
to change the phonetic value of a letter.

“It's a squiggle,” said Danny Hillis of Thinking Machines
Corporation, producers of the world's fastest massively parallel
computers, capable of performing nine billion calculations a
second, which will be hooted at as leaden footed in a few months.
Mr. Hillis had written from Cambridge, Mass., where Thinking
Machinists hang out, to amend my piece on the pound sign, adding
hash to the nomenclature: “For example, the cartoon expletive
#@/\()! can be read as hash, at, slash, backslash, open, close,

He put his associate, Guy Steele, on the speakerphone. Nine
billion calculations a second, and these guys don't have an
extension phone. Guy (everybody in computering is on a first name
basis) is co-editor of the Hacker's Dictionary, and confirms that
the tilde is often called a squiggle, but thinks a more common
usage is twiddle. A few hackers will call it a swung dash, but
these are the far out types who call the @ a strudel, whorl, or

What do they call the asterisk? “Star,” said Danny. “Splat,”
said Guy. Give me splat any day; it conjures a vision of an
insect hitting my windshield and making a mark that has me looking
for a footnote on my dashboard. Star, however, is the word being
pushed by the phone companies. Point and dot are being pushed by
programmers who can't be slowed by the three syllable period. (A
programmer at the Pentagon tells me if the missiles are coming in,
he intends to retaliate with star-dot-star, a sequence of keyboard
symbols to start an attack that wipes out the entire Milky Way
galaxy and several of its neighbors. I think he means “asterisk,
period, asterisk,” but I have no need to know.)

What about the ampersand, that ancient sign used to connect
partners as in S. J. Perelman's accountant's Whitelipt &
Trembling? “That's too silly a word to change,” said Danny. Guy,
from across the room, boomed, “You sometimes hear the and sign.
Occasionally the pretzel.” I'll stick with ampersand. It is
silly; it is built out of “and per se and,” meaning “the sign ‘&’
by itself stands for ‘and,’” which is a lot of etymological noise,
but the old name has its charm.

Guy said he would fax me some pages of the next edition of the
Hacker's Dictionary, and Danny put in: “There's a controversy
about the word hacker. A few years ago, it was an endearing term
for people who were interested in computers; lately it's been used
in a sinister way, to describe people who break into computer
files and steal information or plant viruses. They're stealing
the meaning from us.”

So what do good hackers call the bad hackers? “Crackers,” said
Danny, “on the analogy of safecracker.” Let's give it a try;
perhaps Georgians would be glad to give up the derogation. (I
realize it sounds condescending to refer to my two ingenious
sources by their first names, as if they were kids; in truth, they
are rocket scientist managers in a company with yearly sales over
$60 million — that's a buck sign — and they probably will earn
more in the next nanosecond than I will in the rest of my life.
And I bet they come to work in jeans and shoes you pump up.)

What else do we have here? The simple, vertical line (I don't
know where it is on your keyboard; I have enough trouble with my
unenhanced version) is called a pipe or vertical bar; what we old
timers know as “parentheses” are now just open and close, or more
descriptively left banana and right banana.

The brackets with the nipple in the middle are called bracelets or
curly braces, and here's the latest renaming of the < and > signs:
forget less than and greater than. It's now left angle bracket
and right angle bracket, or bra and ket for short; this locution
is in hot competition according to the Hacker's Dictionary, with
read from/write to; suck/blow; crunch/zap, and comes from/gozinta.

@ this . I )

In the above symbolic sentence, I was trying to say, “At this
point I close.” However, many hackers will translate that as
modern poetry: “Snail this dot I right banana.” At ninebillion
calculations per second, they can figure something out.

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages