Why is backslash called BACK slash when arguably it points forward?

  • This is a backslash \.

    If you read the slash from left to right it starts at the top and goes down - hence it is a downslash.

    If you read the slash from top to bottom it starts on the left - which in our culture represents back direction - and continues to the right - which represents the forward direction. Hence it is a forward slash.

    So why do we call in a backslash?

    The reason for my question is that whenever I am not sure if I am looking at a forward slash or a backslash I am trying to reason about its direction which apparently fails. I believe that this classifies it as an usability problem.

    PS: I am deriving the meanings of the directions from things like direction of writing, clock dial, rulers, time scales, calendars, play buttons etc. Left is past, back, right is future, forward.

    I actually find some people calling '/' backslash. For that reason, I prefer the names Solidus and Reverse Solidus even though they are technically incorrect. A solidus is more tilted than a slash.

    @Lan I imagine if you called it a Solidus in conversation you would get a lot of blank looks...

    @Midas Perhaps it depends on the area. It seems like to me I have a 50/50 chance of being misinterpreted if I say "slash" or "backslash" but everyone understands that solidus is '/' and reverse solidus is '\'.

    I have literally never heard it called "solidus" before. Or maybe I have and I just forgot (and will once again forget about 20 seconds after I press the "add comment" button).

    @Lan interesting, where are you from if you don't mind me asking? Wikipedia gives the etymology of Solidus as British, but I'm from the UK and have never heard it called that. Perhaps for people who are old enough to remember pre-decimalisation where it was used to denote a shilling?

    Pretend the slash is a pencil you're holding with the tip touching the ground. When you let go, the \ pencil falls backwards and the / pencil falls forwards.

    @Midas New Brunswick, Canada. Compute Science/Software Engineering field.

    I find it annoying that "sort *ascending*" makes the results increase as they go *downward*. I suggest you get used to disappointment.

    Note that for right-handed people in a left-to-right language, slashes are much easier to write than backslashes, so it makes sense to think of the back one was the weird one.

    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it doesn't appear to have anything to do with UX. It asks about the history of the name for a term rather than asking about UX-related things like (1) the history/origins of its use or (2) the current terminology for an interface element with an unknown name. It might be on topic at English.SE.

    @starrise But the Latin term for left handed is "sinister". So it may not be so much backward as "bad" : ) Maybe it should be called *badslash*. But that would be redundant, as slashing is already bad. Its all good, I guess.

    You can argue that either slash points forward. I just call one an escape character and the other a slash. Forward and backward are too relative to be used here.

    Sometimes I don't understand this community. Why is this a good ux question and receives 40 upvotes?

    Why is an arrow pointing forward when it has multiple points pointing backward?

    @Mateo When you point your finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. *"Don't point that thing at me, it might go off!"*

    @stefan.s웃 I think that UX referes to **Urgent Exasperation.**

    Because slash was already taken and *reverse slash* was too long.

    In the majority of languages used principally to the East of Jerusalem, would back & forward slash definitions be swapped?

    I was taught to always start a drawing a glyph at the baseline. Therefore '/' is forward. Who starts drawing glyphs from the top then accuses everyone of naming "\" backwards?

    "Forward" slash also starts from left and continues to the right, so that part of your logic is invalid I would say..

  • Ancient slash → new back-slash → disambiguating retronym forward slash


    Ancient Roman coins - Solidus and Denarius.

    The slash character came first, with a different formal name solidus. This name comes from Latin and was associated with coinage - hence (I guess) it's use in writing down prices in older currencies: 10/6 was quite a common notation for prices in British currency pre-decimalisation. The solidus mark probably indicates the first number is units of solidus, the second of denarius. Or in the British case: shillings and pence. Note common first letter abbreviations s and d were used in Britain (also £ is L for Latin libra).

    The slash (or solidus) was around for a very very long time before the reversed version was invented. The reversed version therefore acquired the more informal name back-slash to indicate a reversed form of slash.

    The name "forward slash" has probably evolved since the general public started to use computer keyboards incorporating two characters that look like a slash. There was a need to disambiguate slash for people who didn't learn about computers in a formal teaching context.


    The Medieval comma, Johannes Gutenberg and Aldus Manutius

    The history of the slash and the comma are intimately intertwined. Both have been used to separate items of text or to separate numbers with different units. In some European countries it is normal to use the comma where others use a decimal point - to separate whole units from decimal fractions. So you might see €5,60 as a price. The comma serving much the same role as the slash (or solidus) in 10/6.

    It is easy to find history linking the two. For example

    The [comma] mark used today is descended from a diagonal slash, or virgula suspensiva ( / ), used from the 13th to 17th centuries to represent a pause. The modern comma was first used by Aldus Manutius

    I have also seen the reverse stated, that the slash is derived from the comma.

    I believe that the earliest movable-type printing presses, as used by Johannes Gutenberg used commas in some situations where we would today normally use slashes. So his fonts did not have slashes, only commas.

    Gutenberg's font


    1899 - Adler typewriter company.

    enter image description here
    - Photo © Dake - CC-by-SA 2.5

    Slash, but no backslash.


    C20th - Monotype corporation

    enter image description here Monotype Matrix Case, Arrangement No 841

    No slashes or backslashes in moveable type typography? But note the comma.


    1963 - Telex

    enter image description here
    ASR-32 teleprinter for Telex, CC BY 2.0, Arnold Reinhold

    Slash but no backslash.


    1963 - American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII)

    American Standards Association (ASA) X3.4 subcommittee

    /   slant
    ...
    \   reverse slant
    

    1991 - Unicode consortium

    002F   /     SOLIDUS
                 = slash, virgule
    
    005C   \     REVERSE SOLIDUS
                 = backslash.
    

    So it is clear that the name backslash was introduced to indicate a novel character that was the reversed version of a long established character.

    The name forward slash therefore subsequently became needed to disambiguate the name for the earlier character.

    +1 for the linguist's answer. particularly for using the word retronym (albeit not in a sentence).

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution


Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

Tags used