Does the tilde have a proper use?

Posted 9 years ago by Evan Tishuk

Mark Pilgrim did a great bit of sleuthing to uncover the history of the tilde (~):

...the tilde was not meant to be the tilde at all, but rather anMark Pilgrim did a great bit of sleuthing to uncover the history of the tilde (~):

...the tilde was not meant to be the tilde at all, but rather an odd character called the overline. Presumably to balance out the underline, if indeed those sorts of things require balance. There is balance in the universe, to be sure, but I am less sure that it eminates from my keyboard. No matter. The tilde was the tilde so that Spanish-typing types could type the ñ (now referenced in HTML as the named entity ñ), but somewhere along the line, it morphed into a general-purpose character with all sorts of geeky uses.

I employ the tilde on this site to help denote a clear separation between links or phrases that are inline (on the same line). In other words, we stole the tilde and made it operate as a super-semi-colon. I was afraid it might actually have some established grammatical standard, but it turns out the tilde (~) is just a quirky little squiggly line that only barely made its way onto our American keyboards.

So why not give the tilde a more standard usage in language? Are there some writing or communication situations that could use a special character? Personally, I think the tilde is an under-appreciated symbol that we should try to elevate beyond geekdom.


Lord ~ 9 years ago

I generally use the tilda before my name when I post a comment or write and email or do something else similar online.


Evan Tishuk ~ 9 years ago

Our friend Walker sent an email just this morning using the tilde as a symbol for approximation. As we all learned in grammar school arithmetic, the formal approximation symbol looks like two tildes on top of one another (≈). Several times in High School I tried using this symbol to express algebra equations that didn't quite work. I didn't do well in math until college. Anyway, I checked with Wikipedia and lo and behold the tilde is also an accepted, albeit informal, alternative for the ≈ symbol.

So, I wonder which of these symbolic statements is correct:

  1. ≈ = ~
  2. ≈ ≈ ~
Kevin ~ 8 years ago

thats one of the geekiest things I think Ive ever laughed at! :D

dork ~ 8 years ago

In symbolic logic the tilde is a negation symbol. Placing before anything is essentially saying,"It is not the case that" or "It is not true that". So ~X means X is not true. This formal usage of the tilde has almost the exact opposite meaning of the one above.

Prasanth ~ 9 years ago

Very rarely do people use the tilde symbol. Atleast me. I guess it is more of a programming key. Its used in alegbra like Evan said. I use it in my signatures, cos it looks different from the other keys. Lol.

Scott M ~ 8 years ago

I use the tilde sometimes to prefix folder names so the show up first in directory listings.

Ahmed ~ 8 years ago

Thanks Ivan & all, I was looking for uses of tilde in English language and your discussion helped me to find few.Could sombody let me know the exact usage of this symbol in English with few examples, Thanks in advance!

Evan Tishuk ~ 8 years ago

Approximations as a quick substitute for ≈:

  • turquoise ~ cyan
  • my shoe size ~ 11


  • "A penny saved is a penny earned" ~ Benjamin Franklin
  • "You can do anything, but not everything." ~ David Allen

General separation delimiter as a comma or minus sign:

  • A ~ B ~ C ~ D ...
  • Ahmed ~ 5 Hours ago

Beyond that, I suppose you could try using it to denote a range in substitution of a dash:

  • From pages 134 ~ 255, and 256 ~ 319

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