"Alphasymeric"? Apparently not a real word, so is there an appropriate one? If it matters, I'm seeking this as a vernacular term in the context of the "computer information technology" nomenclature.

EDIT: Example use case, "In Excel, LEN() is _____eric" as in inclusive of alphanumeric and symbolic characters.

  • It also helps when looking for a word for a set of things if you say both what is and what isn't included. Are you looking for a technical, computing-specific term, because this has come up in the comments below?
    – Stuart F
    Mar 15 at 9:30
  • The term to use is "string". Len is a string function. Strings include all these other characters by definition. Any educational materials for VBA ought to include and cite this definition, as well as the possibility of multi-byte characters.
    – Yorik
    Mar 15 at 15:17
  • @Yorik LEN() is a function which takes a string and returns an integer. A learner, reading "string function", might think that it's a function that returns a string.
    – Rosie F
    Mar 15 at 16:42
  • LEN() is the number of characters in a string, excluding a termination byte. The question should then be, not what is LEN(), but what is a string of characters. Mar 15 at 16:50
  • It’s not clear what you’re trying to exclude here. If you lump together letters & numbers (“alphanumeric”) with symbols and special characters, then you can just say “characters” with no qualifier. Everything is included.
    – Gary R.
    Mar 16 at 23:19

2 Answers 2


You could probably get away with "character-based" if you really wanted an adjective but it will still leave the reader wondering what you want to say.

The fact that no single word springs to mind suggests that there is no single word that people will understand to mean "designed to count all characters including punctuation marks, spaces, possibly even new-line characters but hold on, I'll have to check, well, yes it seems new lines are counted, and I really don't know about zero-width space - does that even exist? - but yeah, I guess that is counted too and I have NO IDEA what it does when it hits a sequence of Unicode composing characters thrown into a mix of Arabic and Chinese with the appropriate change-of-text-direction marks."

So I think it's better to say what it actually counts so that people aren't left guessing.

EDIT: Merriam-Webster actually says that "alphanumeric" can include "other symbols"! Behold:

alphanumeric: consisting of both letters and numbers and often other symbols (such as punctuation marks and mathematical symbols)

  • The context here does not imply all character-based entries.
    – Arctiic
    Mar 15 at 8:57
  • @Arctiic That's kind of my point. Even the expression "symbolic characters" is ambiguous.
    – eltomito
    Mar 15 at 9:21
  • 1
    "character" seems appropriate given that Microsoft's documentation for Excel's Len() and LenB() functions specifically use the word. I think this covers the claim of not being an in-context answer as well ( "LEN returns the number of characters in a text string" support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/… )
    – Yorik
    Mar 15 at 15:12
  • Please don't use "alphanumeric" as if it included punctuation marks. It's typical for a language to allow letters and digits in an identifier; depending on the language, _ might also be allowed, but let's not mislead learners into thinking that characters such as ; or + are allowed.
    – Rosie F
    Mar 15 at 16:45
  • @RosieF It isn't me, it's Merriam Webster. And they didn't make it up, they noticed it was happening in the wild, so there's no point denying some people use it like that. I'm just telling people the cold hard truth about alphanumeric characters :)
    – eltomito
    Mar 15 at 22:48

The purpose of the term alphanumeric isn't really to say that something contains letters and numbers; rather, it's to say that something contains nothing but letters and numbers. In fact, a string that contains only letters, or only digits, is still considered "alphanumeric", in the sense that it can appear in a field that accepts alphanumeric strings.

If you also want to allow "symbols and special characters", then the question is what you don't want to allow. If you mean that all characters are allowed, then it doesn't make sense to use a term like alphanumeric, because you'd need a term meaning "only anything", which is practically a contradiction.

If you don't want to allow control characters, then you can potentially use graphic or printable; but you'll need to rephrase a bit, because although we describe certain characters as "graphic" or "printable", we don't generally use those terms to describe strings that contain only those characters.

  • In the context of Excel's LEN() function, it will treat cells with numbers only as the NUMBER datatype, whereas any cell that contains string (even if they have numbers and/or symbols as well) as TEXT. However, the exception is that it will ignore formatting characters, i.e., characters that do not print to display, under which control characters would also fall under. In this case, what would be the appropriate terminology?
    – Arctiic
    Mar 15 at 8:51
  • @Arctiic It seems to me that you are using particular computing behaviour to impose restrictions on this English language question.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 15 at 9:15
  • It's a question about computing terminology, it seems to me. But not a clearly-defined one.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 15 at 9:28

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