Posted by: episystechpubs | July 9, 2012

Editor’s Corner: Final Five Symbols, Several Sentence Fragments, and a Peeve in a Pear Tree

Today I give you the last five symbols from the article “12 Signs and Symbols You Should Know” (on DailyWritingTipscom). I hope you enjoyed your weekend!

# (Number or Pound Sign, or Hash)

This symbol evolved from the abbreviation for pound, lb. (a literal abbreviation for the Roman word libra, meaning “balance”), in which horizontal lines were superimposed on the vertical lines of the letters, producing something like the tic-tac-toe pattern used today. One of many other names for the sign, octotherp (also spelled octothorp or otherwise), was a jocular coinage by telecommunications engineers in the mid-twentieth century. The symbol is seldom used outside informal or highly technical or otherwise specialized contexts. [KC – Okay, folks. This is the most wishy-washy, flip-floppy definition I’ve seen in a long time! “It’s spelled like
this—except when it isn’t spelled that way.” Yikes!]

% (Percent)

The sign for indicating percentage developed in the Middle Ages over the course of hundreds of years, beginning as an abbreviation of percent (from the Latin phrase per centum, meaning “out of a hundred”). Its use is recommended only in technical contexts or in tabular material, where space is at a premium. (Some standards authorities call for a space between a number and this symbol, but most publications and publishers omit the space.)

~ (Tilde)

The tilde is used as a diacritical mark over various letters to indicate a variety of sounds in different languages, but it also appears midline, like a dash (and is sometimes called a swung dash), to denote “approximately” (“Last night’s attendance: ~100”). It has technical connotations as well and is even used as a notation for recording sequences of action in juggling. The name, borrowed into English through Portuguese and Spanish from Latin, means “title.”

/ (Slash, Solidus, Stroke, or Virgule)

During the Middle Ages, this sign of many names, including those listed above, served as a comma; a pair denoted a dash. The double slash was eventually tipped horizontally to become an equal sign and later a dash or hyphen. (The equal sign is still used as a proofreader’s mark to indicate insertion of a hyphen.) The slash — also called the forward slash to distinguish it from the backslash, which is used only in technical contexts — is an informal substitute for or. [KC – In poetry, when writing lines without formatting, a single slash indicates the end of a line; the double slash indicates the end of a stanza.]

_ (Underscore or Understrike)

This artifact from the era of the typewriter was used on such devices to underline words to indicate emphasis in lieu of italics. [KC – Emphasis mine. If you are using underlines for emphasis in this day and age, and you send me work to edit, I will remove them. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, since we do not want to look like a technology company that promotes the uses of typewriters or other “artifacts.” Off soapbox.] As a survival of that function, words are sometimes bracketed by a pair of single underscores in email and other computer contexts to mark a word for emphasis (“That band totally _rocked_ the place.”). Indeed, as I typed this post in Microsoft Word, the program automatically converted rocked to italics. The symbol also appears frequently in email and website addresses and other technical contexts.


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