In sending an email to my copyeditor last week, I mistyped the code for an em dash (ALT+0151) and ended up producing a symbol that look remarkably like a butt. Not only did I decide against retyping the proper symbol, I actually pointed out the random butt symbol. “Look! I mistyped and made a butt! Isn’t that strange?”
Very professional, I know. In any case, the symbol looked like this:
This eventually caused me to look at the Microsoft Word symbol bank in order to find out what this symbol actually was and, subsequently, to mock the people whose printed language uses butts. Apparently the symbol is ot — a form of the early Cyrillic character omega, a ligature with the character te. It can mean “from,” I’m told. I will continue to imagine that it means “butt.”
In trying to find the Cyrillic butt symbol on my home computer, I ended up noting a few of those other symbols that don’t make much sense to monolingual Americans like myself. I’ve scrolled past them many times and always wondered what they did. Now I know.
First up: The End of Ayah.
I’m calling it The Magical Fishbowl.
Ayah is the Arabic word for “sign” or “miracle.” (It’s a cognate with the Hebrew word ot, which also means “sign,” though the similarity between that the above ot is probably just a coincidence.) According to Wikipedia, Ayah most often refers to one of the 6,236 verses of the Qur’an, which Muslims each regard as each being a sign from Allah himself. After each one, as near as I understand it, there appears the above symbol with the verse number inside it.
Then there’s this one, which looks a bit like a poorly drawn Star of David but, being Arabic in origin, probably isn’t.
It’s actually the Rub El Hizb — which translates to English as something like “lord of the group” or “sustainer of the party” or “supporter of the sect” or something along those lines. It’s a popular motif for flags and whatnot — you’ve doubtlessly noted it on that Turkmenistan coat of arms that you’ve been seeing everywhere — but also is used to represent the end of a chapter in Arabic calligraphy. Finally, I’m told that the Rub El Hizb represents “an eighth of a juz’,” but I can’t even to begin to figure out what that means.
And finally we have the Place of Sajdah, which I repeatedly read as “Palace of Sajdah,” which sounds a lot more fantastic than the actual name but which doesn’t lend itself to quick and easy Googling. There’s surprisingly little about this one online, at least under the name I have understood to use for it, but it would appear to be the symbol for the notion of prayerful prostration — sajdah, also known as sujud. I don’t understand the connection between the act and the symbol, unless it’s supposed to be an abstracted for of a human, bent down in prayer, wit the diamond-shaped part at the top being that person’s head.
More on punctuation, typogrpahy and other such symbols: