Several posts use symbols, such as asterisks, without explaining what they are supposed to mean. Because of this, users may not know what they mean, particularly if they are not linguists.

Such symbols are not particularly useful unless they are listed in List of common symbols and abbreviations or the OP explains why they were used. Otherwise, since I cannot read the OP's mind, I have absolutely no idea what they are for, especially when the symbols used normally mean something else.

Therefore, I think it would be reasonable to expect users to either include an explanation of any symbols not found in List of common symbols and abbreviations in footnotes at the end of the post, or to refrain from using them in favor of parenthetical explanations.

Footnotes need not be used for standard symbols, which should be listed in List of common symbols and abbreviations, but footnotes should be used for other symbols. Additional symbols may be added to that list by anyone who can edit CW posts.

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    +1 I'm a frequent offender in this respect: the asterisk/superscripted q-mark is conventional and FAQed on ELU, and I've employed both without here thinking. Thanks for calling this to my attention. Mar 11, 2013 at 16:58
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    I don't think the usual linguistics symbols are "utterly useless". I do think it's likely that some people don't understand them.
    – user230
    Mar 11, 2013 at 17:01
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    Generally speaking I agree with you on the fact that we should be careful about using symbols, but can you give some example? Without examples I'm not able to understand what you precisely are talking about.
    – user114
    Mar 11, 2013 at 17:04
  • @Carlo I used * and ?? in an answer. ctype.h edited the answer to remove them. I have not put them back, though I think it would be nice if we could make these symbols standard on ELL and perhaps add them to the FAQ like on ELU.
    – user230
    Mar 11, 2013 at 17:11
  • @snail, yes, now (it) is clear. And yes, I agree with you, especially about using *, which is 'imprescindible' in a site on English Grammar.
    – user114
    Mar 11, 2013 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


Convey meaning only to the O.P.? Superflous? I beg to differ. Check out Meaning #2 here.

There's also a pretty good write-up on the use of such symbols here.

I'll grant you that newer users might find the symbols confusing, but the information is available, if one is curious enough to do the research.

We need to be cautious about chiding someone for using something unfamiliar. Otherwise, every post might end up with an appendix like this one.

cautious: tending to avoid risk, being careful in actions, showing careful forethought

chide: to criticize someone for what you think is improper or inappropriate behavior

unfamiliar: seemingly strange because of a lack of first-hand experience

appendix: a body of separate additional material at the end of a book, magazine, etc, esp. one that is documentary or explanatory

  • 2
    Good point. We don't want every post to have an appendix twice as long as the post itself. I have created a CW post to list commonly used symbols. However, I still think footnotes should be used for symbols not found there. I have also edited the question to address only symbols not found in the CW post.
    – ctype.h
    Mar 11, 2013 at 20:04

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