"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Tilde (and friends)

When writing something on my Rambles blog I used the word tilde and it occurred to me that not everyone might know what a tilde was. So I thought I would define it here.

A tilde (pronounced Till-dee) is a diacritical mark (~) placed over the letter n in Spanish to indicate a palatal nasal sound or over a vowel in Portuguese to indicate nasalization. It is also used over the latter A in some languages. It is also sometimes known as a ‘swung dash’.

Once I had written that definition I thought – I wonder if everyone knows what a diacritic is. So I thought I’d add that definition:- A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign) is an ancillary glyph added to a letter, or basic glyph.

So what is a glyph, I hear someone ask? A glyph is a fancy word for a shape. It is a component that makes up a typeface. For example, the dot on the letter "i" is a glyph, as is the vertical line, as are the serifs. (Serifs are little hooks on the ends of the font. The serifs usually help make the font more readable. .... )

Another definition said the tilde (~) is a grapheme with several uses.

In typography, a grapheme is the fundamental unit in written language. Graphemes include alphabetic letters, Chinese characters, numerical digits, punctuation marks, and all the individual symbols of any of the world's writing systems.

The tilde was originally written over some letters as a mark of abbreviation. It is used in dictionaries to indicate the omission of the entry word.   Apparently it is also used in online chat situations to denote sarcasm.

In summary, the tilde is the sorta squiggly dash character on a keyboard.


  1. You mean they're not just squiggles??
    Canadian Chickadee

  2. Helen has been trying to comment but without success. This is what she would have said....

    In maths we use this symbol to mean about or approximately e.g., ~0.5 means approximately a half. All my lecturers always pronounced it tilduh though.

  3. HI, and good morning!
    As always, another interesting post.
    Thanks, Scriptor.
    Canadian Chickadee