Ampersands, Asterisks and Other Weird Names for Symbols We Use Every Day
"Language, after all, is only the use of symbols, and Art also can only affect us through symbols."
George Henry Lewes 1817-1878 - English philosopher and literary critic
The English language is full of quirky words. Two of my favorites are discombobulated and catawampus.
Some of the symbols we use in our day to day typing and writing have even weirder names. We are all familiar with exclamation point, the question mark, the dash and the comma, but what the heck is an ampersand? How about an asterisk? And are all hash tags created equal?
The origins and previous uses of some of these symbols may surprise you!
Some symbols are not on the standard keyboard. Because I am awesome, I will show you how to make some of them!
The List, and Nothing But the List
- & - Officially called the ampersand or epershand, this symbol is used in place of the word 'and.' It is officially a logogram, also referred to as an ideogram, meaning a symbol used in place of a word. The & symbol actually dates back to the Romans and was used as a letter at the end of the Latin alphabet. It also began to appear in the common English language in the 1800's. There is a myth that the ampersand was given it's name by the French mathematician André-Marie Ampère and his frequent use of the symbol, causing it to be called 'Ampère's and.'
- * - The asterisk is found over the #8 key on a standard keyboard. It's name is derived from the Latin asteriskos, meaning little star. It is most often used for page or scene breaks in fiction, or to lessen the impact of swear words not fit to print. Like sh*t. The asterisk does have several less vile uses in mathematics and mechanical applications and in music and genetics. There are quite a few versions of the asterisk, though the five pointed star is the most popular in general use. There is a sixteen-pointed asterisk, ✺, a teardrop asterisk, ✻ and an open center asterisk, ✲. All of them have different uses.
- @ - This symbol has no official name, but is referred to by the French word arobase or the Spanish word arroba. It has unofficially been called the apserand and the ampersat, though neither word has ever gained widespread popularity. Though @ achieved worldwide use when applied to e-mail addresses, its origins are disputed and it predates the internet by possibly up to five hundred years. It first appeared on a typewriter in 1889 and was originally used (according to some people) in the mercantile industry, to denote 'each at.' Today it's used in e-mail addresses though occasionally does show up in inventory records and other commercial places.
- « » - These guys are officially called guillemet marks, or French quotation marks. The name is derived from Guillaume, the French name for William and the « » marks are attributed to French printer Guillaume Le Bé. The symbols are often used to denote speech in print, as opposed to the more popularly used quotation marks in some languages such as Arabic, North Korean, Norwegian and Croatian, though some languages use them in their inverted form, » «. Other uses for guillemet marks are the fast forward and reverse buttons on media playing electronics and directional instructions for driving.
- ... - The 'three little dots' are officially called an ellipsis, but are frequently referred to as 'dot, dot, dot.' Though often used with no spaces in between the dots, many grammar and usage guides advise putting a single space between each dot. Originally, the ellipsis was used to either take the place of a swear word or in the place of a proper noun. These days, the dot, dot, dot is often used to denote a trailing thought or for sarcastic or humorous effect. Many visitors to chat rooms and other popular internet sites will say that the ... is the most overused punctuation symbol ever.
- # - Though millions of Twitter users around the world will tell you that this is a hash tag, it is officially a number sign, as in John Dillinger was Public Enemy #1. In England, though, the symbol is often called the hash. In some instances, # is also called the pound sign, as in a unit of weight, specific to the United States and not to be confused with the British pound symbol, the £. Singapore officially calls this symbol the hex sign. Some medical personnel use the # to denote a fracture. Twitter users use the # as a way to make topics trend, such as #thewalkingdead.