Symbol pronunciation

I was explaining to someone this evening that I’m in the habit of saying “bang” rather than “exclamation point.” Here’s a list of similar nicknames for symbols.

These nicknames could complement the NATO phonetic alphabet if you needed to read symbols out loud, say over the phone. You might, for example, pronounce “HL&P” as “Hotel Lima Pretzel Papa.”

Or you might use them to have one-syllable names for every symbol. This is a different objective than maximizing phonetic distinctiveness. For example, referring to # and $ as “hash” and “cash” is succinct, but could easily be misheard.

You could also optimize for being clever. Along those lines, I like the idea of pronouncing the symbols ( and ) as “wane” and “wax”, by analogy with phases of the moon, though this would be a bad choice if you want to be widely and quickly understood.

Even if someone understood the allusion to lunar phases, and they knew which one looks like an opening parenthesis and which one looks like a closing parenthesis, they might get your meaning backward because they don’t live in the same hemisphere you do! I implicitly assumed the perspective of the northern hemisphere in the paragraph above. Someone from the southern hemisphere would understand “wane” to mean ) and “wax” to mean (.

Phases of the moon in northern and southern hemispheres

9 thoughts on “Symbol pronunciation

  1. I will sometimes say “open” for “(“ and “close” for “)”, especially when speaking up mathematical expressions. I don’t know where I picked that up, or whether this is common.

    Accessibility software for the visually impaired often announce them as “open paren” and “closed paren”

  2. Glenn Vanderburg

    The Jargon File (aka the Hacker’s Dictionary) documents many of the conventional names that programmer communities have used for punctuation characters. (The practice very likely started with programmers, simply because there wasn’t much need to actually pronounce punctuation before computers started requiring us to be very precise about how we used them. Except, of course, for Victor Borge.) http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/A/ASCII.html

  3. > pronouncing ( and ) as

    You should put quotation marks around your left and right parentheses in this passage, since you’re referring to the symbols themselves; I mis-parsed what you had written and had to re-read it several times before garnering your intended meaning.

  4. Thanks, Gary.

    I typeset the parentheses in monospace font, but that doesn’t help much when looking at single characters. After reading your comment I inserted “the symbols” in hopes that that would make things clearer.

  5. I had to stop and think a moment (before seeing your diagram) to figure out which way the moon went in the northern hemisphere. I’ve lived much of my life near the equator and always thought the waxing moon looked like a grin. “Smile! It’s a new month.”
    I think the terms “wane” and “wax” for parentheses would probably confuse me in the northern hemisphere because the waxing moon comes first in the lunar month. The southern hemisphere gets it right again.

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