Can You Identify This Mystery Unicode Glyph?

For anyone old enough to have worked with the hell of multiple incompatible character sets, Unicode has been a liberation; a true One Character Set To Contain Them All. We have so many Unicode characters to play with that there’s a fascinating pursuit in itself in probing at the obscure corners of what can be rendered on screen as a Unicode glyph. With so many disparate character sets having been brought together to make the Unicode standard there are plenty of unusual characters to choose from, and it’s one of them that [Jonathan Chan] has examined in detail.

U+237C ⍼, or the right angle with downwards zigzag arrow, is a mysterious Unicode symbol with no known use and from an unknown origin. XKCD featured it as a spoof “Larry Potter”, but as [Jonathan]’s analysis shows it’s proving impossible to narrow down where it came from. Mystical cult symbol? Or perhaps fiscal growth in an economy in which time runs downwards? Either way, when its lineage has been traced into the early 1990s with no answer to the question it appears that there may be a story behind it.

Hackaday readers never cease to amaze us with the breadth of their knowledge, ingenuity, and experience, so we think it’s not impossible that among you there may be people who will turn and pull a dusty computer manual from the shelf to give us the story behind this elusive glyph. We’d love to hear in the comments below.

Meanwhile if Unicode sparks your interest, we’ve given it a close look in the past.

Thanks [Jonty] for the tip.

51 thoughts on “Can You Identify This Mystery Unicode Glyph?

  1. I think I found the meaning…

    * The L stands for Logic. (Cos that’s so logical!)
    * The downward zig zag for contradiction. (A contradiction makes your mind go zig zag into a downward spiral, sometimes insane…)

    The downward zig zag is used as electrolysis symbol as well as for logic contradiction (but why?).

    I guess someone wanted a more less ambiguous symbol for logic contradiction that doesn’t remind them of electrocution hazards, power man or electrolysis…

    Its 42

  2. Well, maybe we can get the meaning from the context.
    Unicode characters are added in groups.

    2200–22FF are mathematical Operators
    2300–23FF are Miscellaneous Technical

    so it would be a technical symbol

    going from the others around that, i would assume it is something in the same group or range.
    there is also something like a “bell” or “square wave form” near that, maybe its for circuit diagrams in text form.

    1. it might feel bloated and in some ways it is, but it’s designed for more than just regular usability it’s designed to be a universal coding scheme. if the character might have been used in a document, or an ancient manuscript somewhere it should be in unicode so everything could be saved in unicode format

      1. All well and good, until they started including emojis.

        Once you start using what are effectively bitmaps of objects, then you have to include all possible objects. US states petition to get their state bird as an emoji, emojis have become political (“gun” emoji and “poop” emoji and “pregnant man” emoji), and the list is never ending.

        They should have stopped at 100 or so common emojis, used as emotional accents on text.

        Emojis were originally ascii constructions, and unicode doesn’t even include all of these: there are ASCII emojis for “total recall” (NSFW), and zoidberg, which aren’t in the unicode standard.

        The count of unicode characters is now never ending, as they add more and more emojis to the mix. (They’re now adding different color variations of emojs as separate characters.)

        1. What’s the unicode for an image of Mohammed? e.g. (((:-{)>
          Trans woman Mohammed? e.g. (((:-{)>8

          ‘They’ surely won’t approve of it. Existing emojis will have to be repurposed.

        2. You might want to brush up on your emoji history there. Emoticon ala :-) started as ascii constructions, but emoji developed in Japan. With the text encoding schemes for the three Japanese text systems there was a bit of extra space for some bitmap images. Which is why the initial release of emoji included such classic american symbols like an onigiri or love hotel.

          Different colored emoji are handled with zero width joiners combining the default glyph character and the color character, not as separate characters for each color instance.

          Unicode needs to be never ending for actual linguistic purposes, people have been, and continue to develop new writing systems for languages that currently do not have a writing system. New languages will also continue to develop and writing systems will continue to develop alongside them and will need to be represented on computers.

    2. It might feel bloated because it kind of is. It’s not made to be efficient it’s designed to be universal. Do you want to sent a text message with emoji, yep, do you want to archive a document from the 1980’s from some old character scheme that was abandoned, you got it, do you want to digitize an ancient manuscript found in a chest at the bottom of sea, probably, but if not they can add more to cover if

    3. i don’t understand the objection. i think utf-32 is a negligible overhead for text…if you’re really warehousing vast quantities of text you’re probably gonna compress it anyways and i imagine gzip does a good job on content that is 3/4ths 0x00 in a regular pattern. and utf-8 is downright clever.

      i just don’t understand a practical or philosophical opposition to it. i mean, in this comment i’m typing right now i’m not gonna use but 2^6 = 64 characters, but i’m still using an 8-bit encoding. such waste!

    4. You’d hate the alternative mutually-incompatible standards mess even worse. Unicode isn’t bloated because it’s poorly designed, it’s bloated because supporting the sum total of human orthographic systems is an incredibly difficult task.

    5. I tend to agree. If we could have left it with just the standard 0-255 . All would be good :) . It would be a ‘universal’ language if was left at that point. But no, had to ‘mess’ with it and add unicode :rolleyes: to complicate the heck out of it. Glad I don’t have to mess with Unicode in my programming world (other than deal with the headaches of dealing with functions and such that expect it) !

      1. 256 characters doesn’t even cover all the variations in the Latin alphabet – ISO 8859 has ten different variations of the Latin alphabet alone. Then there’s Greek, Arabic, Cyrillic, Thai, Devangari and Hebrew and you have a total of 16 different variations of ISO 8859, and they don’t even touch Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

        Math is a language in and of itself, with it’s own alphabet/symbols. Add in Cree/Ojibwe/Inuktitut syllabics. For ancient languages you need heiroglyphics, hieratic, demotic, coptic, meroitic, phonecian, cuneiform, and runes, to name just a few.

        65,536 distinct symbols is actually barely sufficient to handle human languages.

        1. You’re missing the point. If ASCII became the worldwide standard, everyone would just use English and the problem would be solved. Software shouldn’t have to adapt to human inconsistencies when there’s an easy fix on the user end.

          1. Ok, let’s test your hypothesis. Just start using a character set you don’t know but is everywhere, like wingings, and tell us when your easy fix takes hold.

    1. I had never ever heard of that symbol,
      but a casual web search makes me think you are correct,
      except for “tried”, apparently they succeeded B^)

  3. It looks like the zig-zag used to indicate that something that can be inferred has been omitted to save space on the page, in combination with the bottom corner of a chart. I think it means “graph continues but is omitted for space”.

  4. I just asked around and got a suggestion that it’s an outdated symbol for a lightning arrester in radio setups. This was from a long time ham operator and former (1970’s) Army electronics instructor which lends it some credibility, but that’s balanced by the fact that he wasn’t sure, he just knew he had seen it before in that sort of context.

  5. FWIW, this glyph is not listed in my copy of the December 1990 draft Unicode 1.0 document. In that document, the page, titled “Unicode 2 3 _ _ Hex Draft 9/30” only has glyphs for 0x2300 – 0x233B. The other code points on that page (0x233C – 0x23FF) are empty.

    1. You mean “some random person on the internet looked at it and made a guess as to what it meant”? Pack it up boys, nothing more to research here, we can just make stuff up!

  6. My favorite stack overflow answer, replete with unicode:

    stackoverflow (dot) com/questions/1732348/regex-match-open-tags-except-xhtml-self-contained-tags/1732454

    Read it and find out exactly why you can’t parse XHTML with a regular expression, and it will bend your brain if you try.


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