Stop saying 'backslash,' you computer illiterates

August 2, 2007

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Working in a building where there are still plenty of people who are behind on the whole web/technological curve, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people say "backslash" when they really mean "slash."

Whenever they want to put some promotion in print that refers to an online page, I get marketing or advertising or clerical people who ask me to confirm the proper URL to be printed. They inevitably say, "Okay, so the promo should tell them to go to www dot blah-blah-blah dot com, backslash something," or whatever-the-hell.

Stop it. Stop it now.

Just how did "backslash" get into the popular computer-illiterate lexicon, anyway? If you don't write code or at least know what a DOS prompt is — and none of these people do — how do you even have the word "backslash" in your vocabulary?

My guess: Someone who actually knew what a backslash was said it wrong in 1994 — probably on purpose — and it has been spreading through the world and contaminating vocabularies ever since.

For the last time: A slash (or forward slash, if you absolutely must) looks like this: /. A backslash looks like this: \.

The irony is that never, in the history of the popularized World Wide Web, has a backslash ever been used in a normal URL. If you type a \ into a web address, you will get an error message. (Okay, not when using Internet Explorer, which will friendlily change your \ to a /, but that's because IE caters to Average Joe Idiot.)

To me, the difference between a slash and a backslash seems like it would be fairly easy to remember. When you draw a slash in the English language, what does it look like? That's right, like this: /. The other symbol, the \, does not exist in regular punctuation use. You would never say "backslash" to refer to / as a punctuation mark, so why does it suddenly become "backslash" just because it's part of a URL? Evidently, some people somehow must think that "backslash" is computerese for "slash," maybe in the same way that "dot" is computerese for "period." Well, think again.

Next person who comes to my desk and uses the word "backslash" gets my morning cup of coffee thrown in their face. Okay, not really. I'll just imagine it. We are, after all, trying to run a civil office here.

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24 comments on this post

    I always thought backlash was what happened when you went to the toilet in the dark while drunk.

    You call me Francis, I'll kill you. You touch my stuff, I'll kill you. You say "backslash" when you mean "slash," I'll kill you.

    i've never been confused about this, my first computer was a 286 when I was 10. backslashes were common!

    Hmmm. Must be an American thing. We don't get that over here in Blighty. Then again, I work for IBM, where everyone knows what a backslash is. But my mother is computer illiterate, yet manages to use the internet and send email. She even managed to burn music CDs (How the hell?). But I've never heard her say "backslash". Although she did type "underscore" into a URL that I was trying to give her over the phone. Ahem. Oh, she lives in Cyprus now, and is convinced that her poor reception for her wireless internet connection is because she is on the top of a remote hill. Doesn't matter how many times I explain the difference between wireless internet and mobile phones, she just doesn't get it.

    Yeah I've never really heard of this happening in Ireland either. Its a bit funny listening to Patrick Moore trying to read out URLs though. My dad is mostly fairly competent when it comes to using computers and emails and the internet. However, he always types emails in CAPITALS and he uses the terms "email", "internet" and "website" completely interchangeably. So he visits emails on the website, and sends internets via the email.

    So, anyway... Star Trek reviews... *Runs for his life*

    @Dan He he. Have you been sending Jammer nasty emails? :D

    lol No, I didn't put any money in the fund so don't have the right to get mean and send the boys round. Just as well, I'm in England and it'll be a bloody long walk for them.

    Funny, Dan, I was just coming in to mention that I was really getting sick of looking at Locutus' puss.

    Do you think he is cliff hangering the review for part 2?

    Tee hee. I found this posting while checking my RSS feeds, one of which was the "Cort and Fatboy Show", which just announced a move in the location of their podcast... to "kufo dot com backslash podcast backslash..." which pissed me off to no end The sad thing is that the guy announcing it is a definite computer nerd. What were you thinking, man? This was stupid in 1996, by now it's inexcusable.

    Yeah, it is a secret Microsoft world domination thing, because UNC paths use backslashes and you can load just about any file in a web browser by using the UNC path, so theoretically, you could replace URLs with UNC paths and fool people into thinking its normal. Obviously, they were successful to a degree because people say "backslash" although they really mean "slash." Is there any thing less evil in the world?

    I get annoyed by computer illiterates who say "CD-ROM" when they mean "data CD". I mean, hell, they don't even mean data CD, they mean a specific type of data CD - those encyclopedia type CD's that used to be very popular before the internet. I know they're technically correct in that these CD's are ROM's, but that's not what they're getting at! To use "CD-ROM" to differentiate a data CD (let alone a type of data CD!) from any other non-writeable CD just sounds wrong. And I can relate to people who say they have issues with older relatives! My father is very prone to mixing up terms to the point where you really can'tunderstand what he trying to say! (One little thing that irks me is when he says "internet" instead of "the internet").

    Well, the internet is a series of tubes you see. And when my secretary sends me an internet on Friday, I don't receive that internet until Monday. That's because this series of tubes is filled up with people interneting movies and porn to each other. It's not a big truck. I love that guy. "Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got... an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially. [...] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material" And this guy was IN CHARGE of regulating it? Lets get Hitler to head up a racial awareness campaign shall we?

    That would be Senator Ted Stevens, of Alaska. On net neutrality, IIRC.

    I always find that when I'm supporting people over the phone it goes something like this: "Now type backslash, backslash - that's the one next to the 'Z'..." Before you all whinge - I'm in the UK - it IS there! But obviously, if in doubt, a normal slash is "the one leaning forwards", and the blackslash is "the one leaning backwards". As for 'Internet' and 'The internet', the solution is simple: Put on a Yorkshire accent and call it 't'internet'. It works like a charm, although I can to then tell people that t'internet is not made up exclusivelt of tin... Oh well...

    Honestly, if I were not a CS student it would be confusing to me. "backslash" - '\' to me looks like it is actually leaning forward. Forward would be to the left and about to fall forward. Likewise, '/' backslash is about to fall on his ass, backwards.

    Honestly, although I knew there were two types of slashes, I would have mixed them up.
    I would have guessed that / would have been the backslash because when you put your pen on the paper, you move backwards (to the left). Turns out I am wrong.
    That is not to say I shouldn't have known. When pronouncing \r\n, I do not make those mistakes.
    Thanks to you and xkcd 727 to point out this mistake in thought. I hope I will be less wrong in the future.

    10.5 years later and we're no better off. I know people who will *correct* me for saying slash!

    I myself actually reached this site when researching why anybody would ever say 'forward slash'.... That's just plain and utterly unneccessary.

    But besides, calling a slash backslash is just stupid, i agree...

    I'm late to the dance, but I have to pipe up and chime in. I agree that the problem is getting worse, as in "I think Homer gets stupider every year." I don't have many pet peeves, but this is one.

    And to those who say "backslash" when they mean "slash": Go *slash* yourself. And if you're into BACK *slashing* ... well, that's between you and your proctologist.

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