The tilde

Punctuation marks and other non-letter symbols have always fascinated me.  Although the tilde is not really a punctuation mark, it has many other uses, some of which are grammatical or conventional.  I’d like to discuss a few of these, and then connect it to why I seem to this particular mark.  

In math, it means “similar to” or “asymptotically equivalent to.”  Knowing what I went through in some math courses, that didn’t necessarily make me dislike the symbol.  However, this is the only mathy thing of this post, so you may now breathe normally.  Breathe in, breathe out.  However, most of these do deal with academia in some way.  Please read on.

In some other languages and regions, it can be used in place of a dash to describe a range of numbers.  For example, while “two to ten” might be written here as “2-10,” in other places, (e.g. Japan) it would be written “2~10.”

I remember in my high school courses, we were discouraged from citing webpages that had a tilde in their address.  That was a way to denote a “personal” page.  But the slight catch: personal pages sometimes do have useful resources.  This is particularly true for personal web pages of faculty or staff at universities.  Then again, the resources are probably in PDF form and reprinted (with permission) from a reputable source.

Speaking of school, when I was in college, I would always put a divider between days or sections of my notes.  For whatever reason, I signed the end of the section with a “~NW” (rendition below, but my “computer” hand is a lot different than my hand-writing.)  On the hand-written notes, however, often the ~ is not visible, as I replaced the tilde with a filled-in green star to indicate that I had completed the transcription of the notes to the computer.tilde NW

On the topic of signatures, my favorite signature in personal e-mails at the end is “~Noah” or ~Noah :-)”  I will get back to this later, because as it turns out, that might be construed as a little bit of redundancy!

The tilde is used above the “n” in the Spanish language to change an “n” sound into a “ny” sound.

And, shifting languages, it is one of my favorite trope marks in Hebrew cantillation.

Interestingly, the latter of these terms on the list is very much related to something I recently discovered, or at least realized.  The next image will be the basis for the rest of this post. tilde nun chet

The top thing is a tilde, with half purple and half red.  Though you may be thinking, “Ah!  Northwestern and Nebraska!” I arbitrarily chose the colors–the only parameter was that they had some contrast to differentiate the convex part from the concave part.

The bottom part is a “mapping” of the curve onto straight lines, but is not really a mathematical mapping.  Instead, I did mention that it has a personal part.  Notice that the red is a script “nun” in Hebrew, and the purple is a script “chet” in Hebrew.  Yes indeed, I have mapped the grapheme to my Hebrew name!  This must be why I like the tilde so much.

And yes, THIS is the reason why I said that my “~Noah :-)” signature is redundant!


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