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errant pedantry
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 21, '05 12:28:55PM
Nope, it's not a "back quote" ... there is no such thing, it's a grave. Plus where is the "front quote" then? And don't say the apostrophe! There isn't one. It's a diacritical, just as the tilde is, regardless to other uses it might have in computing. Also it would be a "single open quote," and most of the time double quotes are used, unless you are nesting. Quotes are "open" and "closed," not back and front.

Examples of Diacriticals

é Acute
ç Cedilla
â Circumflex
è Grave
ñ Tilde
ü Umlaut/Diaeresis

I see this used as a quote all the time, like `this' instead of ‘this', worse still is when someone tries to use it as a double quote like ``this'', instead of "this." But it's totally incorrect, and just plain ugly. I'm not sure what you are quoting from, but it's incorrect information. Just because it's a "common name" doesn't make it right. What it actually amounts to is "common errors" ... same as when people call this "/" a "back slash," or when people write the year as ‘05', as if they are quoting something, instead of '05.

On a Mac, your single typographer's quotes are located using Option-] for the left, or opening quote, and Option-Shift-] for the right, or closing quote. The double typographer's quotes are located at Option-[ for the opening and Option-Shift-[ for the closing double quote.

I make my living as a typographer, so my pedantry is not errant!


  • a straight line slanting up to the left above the character, like an open-quotation mark
  • examples: à, è, ò, ù
  • used in French, Italian, Pinyin (Chinese)
  • often seen on words with an e-consonant-mute e combination, like frère or pièce
  • distinguishes French homophones like la and là without changing pronounciation

Just as you would tell someone to type a tilde, you would tell someone to type a grave, regardless of the usage. Learning the proper name for something is never a bad thing! :)

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Pedantry vs. Reality
Authored by: MJCube on Feb 21, '05 04:55:14PM

Saying it doesn't make it so. You can say it's not a back quote all your life, but that won't stop people from calling it that, because they have their reasons. On millions of dumb terminals and text-only video screens from decades past, the ` and ' characters appeared just like proper single quotes ‘ and '. If you never saw this, you might not believe me. I think "regardless to other uses it might have in computing" is a rude thing to say in this forum; computing is the whole reason we're here. There are a lot more purposes for computing than typesetting; in fact your whole computer typesetting system was made possible by programmers who call ` a back-quote, because that's their area of expertise.

I would call this pedantry not ‘errant' but ‘irrelevant' here.

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Pedantry vs. Reality
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 21, '05 06:44:42PM

It wasn't rude at all. The first person said I should have corrected him for calling it a "backtick instead of the more correct back quote" even though "back tick" was on his list, and "back quote" is not correct either. I wasn't correcting him anyway, I was merely stating the proper name of the character on that key. The character is called a grave, and the only reason people called it other things was because they didn't know what it was called. Did you even know what it's called? People like to get defensive when they don't know something. If programers called a tilde a "squiggly" would that make it right? Should we start calling an "A" a triangle? ;)

Of course it doesn't matter what you call something, or what you know or don't know. But if someone wants to clarify proper usage you can't criticize them for that. Did you think your teachers were rude if they corrected you?

As far as dumb terminals and other text only devices (or more correctly devices that can't do typography), the most commonly used quotes are the typewriter inch and foot marks (such as the ones I used in this post).

I don't think terminals being dumb is the problem. I think it's the lack of grammar and spelling that seems to be so rampant these days. That's the reality.

If I called someone a name, that would be rude, or if I said they didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't do any of those things.

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Pedantry vs. Reality
Authored by: amaloney on Feb 21, '05 10:58:53PM

I agree with you David.

It is more efficient to have a one to one correspondence between an object and its name. Otherwise we run the risk of ambiguity and the loss of the ability to communicate.

For instance, if I use the word ‘cleave' to mean ‘divide, cut' and you use its alternative meaning ‘cling', how do we know what the other means?

However, in these days of deconstruction and post modernism …

Honi soit qui mal y pense!

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Pedantry vs. Reality
Authored by: powerbookg3user0 on Feb 22, '05 01:39:25AM

One thing:
``Text'' is LaTeX.

It prints "Text"

Takumi Murayama

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Two CS professors did clash over the tilde
Authored by: jmzrsky on Feb 25, '05 12:31:46AM

... and its proper name, in a workshop I attended. In the middle of some dry discussion of some obscure programming syntax, one of them casually mentioned "a twiddle" while scribbling a tilde on the whiteboard. The other asked what a twiddle was - "do you mean a tilde?" "Sure, but I call it a twiddle, just as we say 'bang' instead of 'exclamation point'." "But 'bang' is shorter - 'twiddle' isn't!" And so forth. It was a much livelier topic than anything else that day!

> If programers called a tilde a "squiggly" ...

Just don't get me started on what to call the # character ... :)

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Two CS professors did clash over the tilde
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 25, '05 09:45:16AM

> Just don't get me started on what to call the # character ... :)

Thank you! :)

How about...

Number sign, hash, cross-hatch, pound sign, square, tictacktoe, and... octothorpe!

I call it a number sign.

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Apple's fertility symbols
Authored by: jmzrsky on Feb 26, '05 04:01:25AM

I've heard "grid" too (used as a name for #). But as with "bang" for ! and "twiddle" for ~, it was a bolder-geek-than-I using it. Of special relevance to us Macheads is the strange coincidence linking the cartographic origins of the # and its florid twin, Apple's "command key" symbol:

1. The #, a cartographic symbol for "village", is called (in that context) the octothorp(e) because it once reminded someone of eight fields surrounding a central village square (thorp = village). See and

2. Apple's "command key" is a cartographic symbol (once?) used in Swedish campgrounds to denote something worth seeing. Apparently it's a "floral symbol". See

What links them is not only their form (the command key looks like a floral outgrowth of the #) but also the concept of fertility: the # carries, in its interstices, the yielding soil of ancient English fields; while the command key connotes a flower unfolding its tender petals, an object of beauty to frolicking Swedish campers.

Coincidence? Before answering, notice the symbol next to the command key on your keyboard: the apple, Biblical sign of fertility and sin. And someone has already taken the first bite! (Probably one of those Swedish campers ...) ;-P

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Apple's fertility symbols
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 26, '05 10:37:52AM

I knew that one about the Command key being "a place of interest."

Interestingly about the Apple logo, they started off with a picture of Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with a portion of a William Wordsworth poem. Jobs thought it was too cerebral and not easily reproduced at small sizes, so he asked Rob Janov the art director for their PR firm to design something better. He did a black silhouette of an apple, but thought it looked like a tomato, and wanted to simplify it, so he took a "byte" out of it, and added the six colors. Jean-Louis Gassée said of it "One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn't dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope and anarchy."

And remember that the Apple I kit was priced at $666!

I don't think any other company has had such a sense of humor and irony.

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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Pedantic Errancy
Authored by: gatorparrots on Feb 22, '05 01:39:22AM
I guess you didn't catch my reference:
Winston Churchill once said (mockingly) to someone who criticized him for ending a sentence with a preposition: "That is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put!"
My point was simply this: Context shapes the definition. When referring to coding and more generally, computers, it could well be argued that the correct name for that character is "back quote." In fact, my definition was straight from (excuse the lack of reference). In linguistic and some typographical circumstances, your definition would be more correct -- but certainly, only with another alphabetical character beneath the grave accent. It is usually only used alone in definitions or a listing of accents!

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Pedantic Errancy
Authored by: DavidRavenMoon on Feb 22, '05 12:36:57PM

That's a great Churchill quote! I can agree that in certain circumstances that a character is used for a different meaning, and as it is there is little use for accent characters on a keyboard that print alone, so I fully accept that programers have used things like tildes, graves, and carats for other uses. And have even given them new names.

What I won't agree is that a grave is to be used as a quote character. Clearly this started as a way to get "curly quotes" from systems that don't support such characters. (and also typing such things on non Macintosh computers is a chore) But personally I'd rather see inch and foot marks used as quotes (even though the typewriter inch and foot marks are not even correct for use in typesetting... there are other hash marks to use for feet and inches).

It was never my intention to offend anyone. I just think we need to not bastardize so much of our language. That's something I find offending.

Also as some background... I'm married to an English teacher! :)

(so be aware next time you are in a supermarket that it should be "10 items or fewer" and not "10 items or less") ;)

G4/466, 1 GB, Mac OS X 10.3.8

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