what on earth is this: ‘⋮’?
November 4, 2019 6:39 PM   Subscribe

"[I]f the character in question is a vertical ellipsis then it has endured one of the most precipitous falls from grace I’ve yet come across. Every other symbol on Sholes’ original QWERTY keyboard survives in one form or another, and yet the vertical ellipsis, if that is what it was, has effectively disappeared from typographic use."
posted by jessamyn (40 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
⋰⋱      ← popularity of the vertical ellipsis by time, graphed in diagonal ellipses.
posted by scruss at 6:54 PM on November 4, 2019 [78 favorites]


Thanks, hate it.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:57 PM on November 4, 2019


Make sure to continue on to Miscellany № 71 — ‘⋮’ redux and The Lost Key of QWERTY.
posted by zamboni at 6:59 PM on November 4, 2019 [8 favorites]


Oh my gosh that lost key article is great! I started trying to figure out what this thing was after someone had asked during my tech drop-in time "Hey what is that called?" and I started poking around. I love the article I posted because there's a lot of little nerdery going on in the comments which is always fun to see.
posted by jessamyn at 7:10 PM on November 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


We may have killed the server....
posted by hippybear at 7:13 PM on November 4, 2019


the vertical ellipsis, if that is what it was, has effectively disappeared from typographic use.

Not in math, it hasn't! I teach math and create my own handouts in LATEX. A search of my hard drive for "vdots" yielded 114 hits.
posted by aws17576 at 7:18 PM on November 4, 2019 [11 favorites]


Nor on the web -- I see it right now, in the upper-right corner of my Chrome browser. What does Google call it?
posted by Rash at 7:21 PM on November 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


To be fair, Google will probably eventually retire it.
posted by aws17576 at 7:24 PM on November 4, 2019 [18 favorites]


Reading TFA, and following the links, I see it's referred to as the Overflow Menu on the Action Bar.
posted by Rash at 7:27 PM on November 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


Hrm, I kind of thought the chrome menu was just a heavily streamlined hamburger button.
posted by Horkus at 7:28 PM on November 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


Something similar, but probably unrelated: I’m curious where the vertical bar (sometimes represented as a broken bar) character comes from.
posted by danielparks at 7:32 PM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was going to say "pipe" but then it occurred to me that it had to have existed before Unix because they were using characters available to them on their keyboards to create their stuff.
posted by hippybear at 7:34 PM on November 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


⋮ is clearly a minimum-width .
posted by genpfault at 7:46 PM on November 4, 2019 [14 favorites]


A type-writing text from a couple decades after the dawn of QWERTY includes a number of practical examples of vertical rules in legal case captions assembled from colons. "[T]he perpendicular lines are either made with a parenthesis or colon, according to the fancy of the writer."

The tricolon/quadricolon is clearly much better suited to this purpose than the colon (but much more poorly suited to other colonic uses), so it seems plausible that it was originally intended for this and related purposes, and then discarded in favor of more commonly-needed punctuation.
posted by Not A Thing at 7:48 PM on November 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


Cool article but the Morse code it mentions confused me - looks like it is Ye Olde American Morse instead of the International used by modern radiotelegraphers. The latter has an official representation for the @ symbol, namely •——•—• (something I learned in class)
posted by exogenous at 7:51 PM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: much more poorly suited to other colonic uses

yes, I went there
posted by hippybear at 7:53 PM on November 4, 2019 [13 favorites]


aws17576: "To be fair, Google will probably eventually retire it."

Like they did with Google+, which had a site for the Fake Unicode Consortium, that had a joke for this exact character. It all comes U+2B24.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:57 PM on November 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


Ye Olde American Morse is the name of my electronica album made entirely out of samples of old jazz artists singing various scat-singing samples. Da's and Dit's all over the place!
posted by hippybear at 7:57 PM on November 4, 2019 [11 favorites]


The answer--or at least one very definite and well documented answer--is in this comment combined with the info in the article above (mentioned by Zamboni, above). The newspaper he mentions is here and the 1886 bibliography citing that newspaper clearly uses the 3 dots in place of a graphic logo which they can't typeset.

So wherever a logo or some other graphic symbol appears, they put the three dots instead. So it is indeed a sort of ellipsis, but a very particular sort.

And--at least in this one example!--this was a distinct usage from the vertical bar, which represented carriage returns.

Also, interestingly, this early (1873) Sholes & Glidden prototype has a vertical line in the place where the three-dot symbol later appeared--bolstering the theory that they first included the vertical line symbol because it was used to represent a line break in things like bibliographies, but at some point they realized vertical line and sans-serif I are nearly identical.

So they replaced the redundant vertical line symbol with a somewhat related symbol, the three-dots.

Yet later they realized the three-dots wasn't actually used that often, and put a slash in its place.
posted by flug at 10:42 PM on November 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


Metafilter, I love you, and as the only editorial administrator on an obscure journal, I am considering reinstating the vertical ellipses in the next issue.
posted by b33j at 12:35 AM on November 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


This makes me think about common user access shortcuts which is the form of cut/copy/paste that I learned in my typing class in high school. I still use the following commands:
The Cut command is ⇧ Shift+Del; Copy is Ctrl+Ins; Paste is ⇧ Shift+Ins;
I don't really use the more modern shortcuts.
Control+X / Control+C / Control+V /
I always worry that at some point these keyboard shortcuts will be retired or no longer coded in.
posted by Fizz at 1:55 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


The three-vertical-dots menu icon is called a kebab menu. Infographic on Twitter by @MichaelBabich.
posted by daisyk at 2:28 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


(That infographic is clearly tongue-in-cheek, but I’m a web programmer and have definitely heard people say ‘kebab menu’. I like to think of it as the dango menu: 🍡)
posted by daisyk at 2:30 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


To be fair, Google will probably eventually retire it.
On the contrary, Google seem to adopted it (the kebab menu!) everywhere. For example they use it on the Youtube interface as a menu mechanism that allows you to report a specific comment for being spam, porn, hate speech or harassment: so its fulfilling a pretty important role there.

Also: a new word to me: pilcrow. What Eric Gill called "the marker of a new train of thought".
posted by rongorongo at 3:34 AM on November 5, 2019


Ye Olde American Morse is the name of my electronica album made entirely out of samples of old jazz artists singing various scat-singing samples. Da's and Dit's all over the place!

Please tell me at least one track is entirely Shooby Taylor samples.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:39 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Google seem to adopted it (the kebab menu!) everywhere. For example they use it on the Youtube interface

It's everywhere on Android too, from the only menu access in Chrome to being where advanced options are in the settings menus of Android itself.
posted by Dysk at 4:07 AM on November 5, 2019


Oh ohhh I love the resolution(s)!
posted by lokta at 5:28 AM on November 5, 2019


AFAIK a "vertical elipsis" is/was not standard or common or general use in hand set type or Linotype or similar (except maybe for very specific technical uses like the bibliography example mentioned above), but you'd have a very large variety of ornaments, pictographs, border designs etc. available or even could have something made.

For the typewriter maybe they just decided to choose one and wanted something rather generic and simple. At it stands in for any other ornament, graphic, or character that the typewriter can't reproduce.

Is it not dissimilar to the Apple command key, almost an arbitrarily chosen symbol that they thought would have various uses? (Though I guess eventually replaced by more commonly used characters like slash/virgule).

I also imagine an anticipated common use of the early typewriter would be writing up single use accounting and commercial records, notes, invoices etc., which would often need ad-hoc tables and lists, with continuations or repetitions of previous lines marked with vertical elipses and quotes etc. Or, they could be used for vertical column separators or visual pointers from a top row to a bottom row in a table with empty space in between (i.e. vertical version of common practice of connecting left justified items to right justified values in any list with dots, like a table of contents for example), in which case I would guess that the three vertical dots character was evenly spaced across the line height and line spacing, such that a continuous and evenly spaced vertical dotted line could be created when aligned on top of each other (while a colon would not be evenly spaced). That's just my own speculation though.
posted by thefool at 6:33 AM on November 5, 2019


Unrelated, why is there a whole blog about "wide sentence spacing"? Is it really that mysterious a topic?
posted by thefool at 6:40 AM on November 5, 2019


This makes me think about common user access shortcuts which is the form of cut/copy/paste that I learned in my typing class in high school. I still use the following commands:

The Cut command is ⇧ Shift+Del; Copy is Ctrl+Ins; Paste is ⇧ Shift+Ins;
Oh, holy shit. That's fascinating!
posted by notsnot at 6:49 AM on November 5, 2019


MetaFilter: much more poorly suited to other colonic uses

This would've been more apropos in the thread where we were talking about red wine enemas.
posted by slogger at 7:19 AM on November 5, 2019


The links in this thread led me to a delightful analysis of claims that the QWERTY layout was designed to thwart excessive speed.

Is it not dissimilar to the Apple command key, almost an arbitrarily chosen symbol that they thought would have various uses?

Well, it has at least one: ⌘ appears on signs marking places of interest in several Northern European countries. To me it looks like a highway interchange, but I first saw it on Iceland's ring road which is notably free of interchanges.

My favorite placeholder symbol is ¤, the generic currency sign and a small blow against typographic imperialism (it was an alternative, in small character sets, to the use of $ as a generic signifier). It's hard to Google, but I choose to believe that there are '90s forums preserved somewhere that are full of snide references to Micr¤s¤ft.
posted by aws17576 at 9:42 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


This website's font choice was ⋮ interesting. Felt like I was reading a hacked computer in a videogame or maybe just an old book I found that seems to have only 3 pages with anything written on them.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:54 AM on November 5, 2019


1. Typeset a vertically-oriented ellipsis
2. Use it in vertically-oriented lists in place of missing items

N. Profit!
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:24 AM on November 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


Egad, I've been nerd sniped
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 10:36 AM on November 5, 2019


I have a couple of old typewriters in my possession: one is American and dates to the 1960s, the other is British and from the 1930s. I just had a quick look at which keys are present. The 1960s model has: ¼, ½, and ¾ as well as the @ and #; the 1930s model also has keys for 3/8, 5/8, and 7/8 (which I don't think exist even in Unicode) and has the @ but not the #. This kind of surprised me a little, particularly the @ sign, but according to wikipedia it dates back as far as 1345!
posted by Acey at 11:40 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I use this symbol on a month basis to prepare reports in text. After pasting the data into text I find/replace all of the commas with this pipe. My assumption is that there is no other know application, so this pipe can be reliably assumed to function as a field separator.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 2:24 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


and death i think is no vertical ellipsis
posted by kirkaracha at 4:20 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


What else do you nekulturniye put into your n-by-m matrices?
posted by away for regrooving at 10:11 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]




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