For example, "/" (slash) can be used to mean "or" for two things that are interchangeable:

I am taking my car/automobile to meet with my date/girlfriend.

Are there other symbols like this that I can use as shorthand? (Except the mathematical ones, <, >, +, -, =, ≠.)

I'm looking for one that would mean two terms are opposed to each other, are antagonists. For example "stand duck". What could I put in-between? I was wondering if "\" had any meaning.

  • 1
    I don't know, but I feel this question is off-topic.
    – Thursagen
    Jun 24, 2011 at 0:57
  • I'd just reverse the words to end up with a Duck Stand. Jun 24, 2011 at 3:14

3 Answers 3


Besides the virgule ("slash"), there aren't many glyphs that represent relationships outside of mathematical notation (including the Propositional Calculus), and none of them would be considered proper for use in formal writing. The ones you might see are → (becomes), ↔ (a reversible transition or an identity), ℅ (in care of), &, and @. There are a couple of others, like an overscored c, that are rarely included in anything other than professional font sets, that represent old manuscript abbreviations (the overscored c is "cum", or "with").

Even the virgule is only acceptable in certain kinds of formal writing, where the full expression in words would be tedious or awkward due to constant repetition. As jackgill mentions in his post, the meaning is ambiguous and contextual -- it can have the meaning of OR (and/or), XOR (one or the other, both not both) or opposition.

The backslash ("hack") is barely older than I am -- it's a child of computing.

  • Interesting, I didn't know that the backslash is actually this young. I'd have expected it to have some older, possibly obscure use before the re-invention in programming. Jun 24, 2011 at 8:50
  • I might use → and ↔ someday. Is there a list of those somewhere ? While I was posting my question I stumbled upon wiki/Punctuation some of them I've never seen before ! Jun 24, 2011 at 9:57
  • Ampersand (&) has more or less the same rules for usage as the virgule, just meaning "and" instead of "or". That's always struck me as a bit odd, since it derived from "etc" rather than just "and"!
    – user1579
    Jun 24, 2011 at 12:30
  • 2
    Actually, the ampersand is just a digraph of e and t -- one can often see et cetera abbreviated as &c and et alia as &a in older works.
    – bye
    Jun 24, 2011 at 18:39
  • @Stan: And current legal works, actually.
    – Jon Purdy
    Jun 24, 2011 at 20:24

One symbol that hasn't been mentioned yet is the tilde, ~. This symbol is very commonly used in technical writing, and means about, or approximately. For example:

The vessel is preheated to ~800 degrees Celcius.


Forward slash, or /, can also be used to signify opposing things. For example, from the Wikipedia article on male:

Male/female dimorphism between organisms or reproductive organs of different sexes is not limited to animals; male gametes are produced by chytrids, diatoms and land plants, among others.

Backslash has no specific meaning that I've ever seen.

  • Yes that's what I thought but I also thought it would be confusing if I used both meanings in the same sentence. I'm writing a manual and this is what I came up with "Focus/Ignore / Cancel Focus/Ignore" It's a chapter title and in it I'll be discussing all 3 terms. Jun 24, 2011 at 10:10

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