Jul 29, 2009

Have We Named the Slashes Incorrectly?!

What do you call the ‘\’ and ‘/’ symbols?

Do you call the ‘/’ a slash? Do you also use the same name for the ‘\’?  Most people do (even if they think one of them is called the backslash) and they’ll use the names interchangeably, unless of course they have worked for Microsoft for more than 3 months in which case they might be calling one of them a “whack”.

Side note: The first time I heard someone at Microsoft ask me to open up a browser and go to h-t-t-p-whack-whack-somesite-dot-com my response was to crack up laughing!  Seriously?! Whack-Whack?  What are we? The Mafia?! Whack that URL!

It’s even better for the back slash, since it gets called a back-whack. Even more sinister mafia overtones.  I can imagine someone saying in hushed and secretives tones “at the command line go to C-backwhack-windows”. Oooo… so scary!!

That said the redeeming feature of being in the midst of so much violence was that I knew which slash was whacked and which slash wasn’t.  So now, back to the extremely serious matter at hand – how do we resolve the confusion that the naming of these slashes causes? Some people say that one is a forward slash and one is a backwards slash and that it’s blindingly obvious, but try explaining that to your grandmother as she’s trying to login to facebook so she can see what you’ve been up to, or proclaiming the nuances of it to your IT illiterate friend who’s trying to locate a document they’ve lost on their computer.  They just don’t get it because to them a forward slash is one that is drawn from top to bottom in the forward direction! The terminology we use doesn’t gel with the experience the average punter has and it only makes it worse when people shorthand the terminology for the forward or backward slashes to just ‘slash’.  It’s then that you can guarantee that someone will get confused and asks which slash they mean.  It’s then that the kittens start dying!

Try this for yourself.  Go and find one of those antique pen thingies your parents still talk about and try writing the offending symbols on a fragment of dead tree.  Note how you will have drawn the symbols from top to bottom, and that the “forward-slash” is, as suspected, drawn from right to left, while the “back-slash” is drawn from left to right with the hand moving in a forward direction! What does this mean!  Can it be that the computing world has it wrong!  Can we have gotten it round about face!!  Can it really be true that the backslash is the forward slash, and the forward slash is the backslash?!!  Oh the horror!!  The wasted years of our lives!

Even that tome of absolute truth Wikipedia has the backslash and slash wrong!

Just to be clear and in case you missed it, I propose that we rename the symbols with immediate effect to:

Back-Slash: /


Only in this way can the true balance of the world be restored! Only then will peace be restored to the galaxy! Only then will we truly be able to fathom the magnificence and pure awesomeness that is Jar-Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode 1!

And with that I now calmly and humbly accept all the accolades, awards and cash donations for making such a stunning breakthrough in the world of typography, human communications and micro-molecular cell bonding that I’m sure you agree is so richly deserved!


  1. I like to think of it as a person, facing in the direction that you are reading. Is the person leaning forward or backward? Simple, and easy to explain to others

  2. Correctamundo Anon, it's really back[ward-leaning]-slash and forward[-leaning]-slash

  3. Based on your argument that the way a person writes should dictate the way they are named, they are both forward slashes

    the \ (back-slash) to me is drawn top to bottom left to right, so ok lets call it a forward slash

    the / (forward-slash) to me is drawn bottom to top left to right, so ok hmm I'm moving forward in my stroke so its a forward slash.

    so they are both forward slashes. Maybe we can confus the issue more and call them leaning slashes, Left leaning and right leaning. which if you stand on your head loses all meaning.

    To end my comment if a tree falls on me and there is no one around to hear it do I make a sound? see you in 200 years when the debate is still raging. =]

    1. LMAO. If you stand on your head) THat would be kind of hard to type, like that. For most of us who still walk upright; we draw a line forward starting from bottom and going up, while the left going line, we draw it starting up on the left, and going down toward right. Either way, it may depend if one is left handed, or right handed, or even hanging upside down. Who knows, right/\! ? Main thing is----if a tree falls on you, I doubt there would be much sound beside the horrible thud it would make; and no one wants to imagine such a thing happening, altho I am sure in this lifetime, it has happened to some people (sorrowfully so; Ah, in the end, to me, forward slash means it LEANS up to the right, while backward slash LEANS back to the left. Don't matter which way it starts from to begin with (whether right or left handed, rather drawing the line starting at the bottom or top, it's utlimately which way the line is facing ----left is back, right is forward. No need for 200 years.

  4. @evan LOL! Bring it on! I love completely pointeless debates with no chance of declaring a winner except for the one who makes the funniest argument. As an aside, amusingly my wife was using slashes last night and she named them the way I propose.

    @anonymous Which way they lean? With that argument maybe we should could call the forward slash the italicised pipe symbol? | => /

    Naming proposal v2: Call one the "slash" and the other one the "other slash" :-)

  5. Nevermind that : looks nothing like a colon, not that I have any medical experience.

  6. I'm confused, isn't slash an eighties rocker??

  7. @cadbloke - ROFLMAO! Maybe if you colour it brown?

  8. UR slash.
    DR slash.

    Now I just need to invent a language where the word for slash is "pa"...

  9. I always think about slashes like I would if I were in a knife fight! And how I write! I don't start at the bottom and go up, I start at the top and go down! So for me, /, will always be a backslash!!!

  10. I always think about slashes like I would if I were in a knife fight! And how I write! I don't start at the bottom and go up, I start at the top and go down! So for me, /, will always be a backslash!!!

  11. hahaha... I have to truly laugh, and agree with all said. THis is just too funny, and true in the sense of meaning as well.

    1. So you are CLOSE - BUT NO CIGAR - it is not Backslash AKA Downhill AKA Hack AKA Wack AKA Whack '\' that needs to change OR Slash (alternative names Ad nauseam, which no-one is clear about) '/': Imagine you are pirate and most likely right handed so you slash '/' and then backslash '\' usually from the bottom by the way, depending on your cutlass technique. NO the offending nomenclature is Wack/Whack and Back-Whack (BahQuack?). So imagine our are a piano teacher, and after yeas of listening to toe same robotic left brained stooge playing you decide to make a point. Would you 'Whack" your student like this: '\' - No, you are hitting yourself in the head (retarded), or would you Back-whack (anything really) like this '/' again no and again, sadly retarded. So this is a wack/Whack '/' and this is a back-whack '\'. Quack, Hack, Smack!

  12. Forward- and back- really are confusing, especially if you consider RTL languages.
    Borrowing logic from localization, it might be more easily understood if we call it a "right slash" (/) and a "left slash" (\), indicating both which way it's "leaning" as well as which way it would have to be rotated to be in that position.