Help me decode Unicode
January 29, 2012 4:29 PM   Subscribe

What languages use a U with a ring on it (U+016E), and how is it pronounced? What is an "incomplete infinity" (U+29DC), and why does it need a symbol? Who uses a times sign in two circles (U+2A37), and for what? And why is a small capital psi (U+1D2A) in the Phonetic Extensions block? How do I find the answer to things like this?

Unicode is full of all kinds of bizarre and interesting things, and I'd like to know just what they mean. I'm not looking for the answers to the above questions (although it'd be helpful) so much as a resource where I could go "why is this character even in Unicode in the first place?". I want to find out who uses a specific character and what it means, especially when the given name for it is unhelpful.

I've tried looking them up on Wikipedia, with mixed results, and Google searches mostly turn up pages with the Unicode definitions themselves, which very seldom say just where the character is from. Even in cases (like U+22B9, "hermitian conjugate matrix") where I'm familiar with the meaning, I'd like to know who uses that notation for it - like, a reference to a book or paper with that symbol being used for that purpose (in this case, I'm not used to seeing that broken-plus shape with that meaning).

If any of you know of somewhere I can find things like this out, it'd be much appreciated.
posted by wanderingmind to Technology (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would start with's FAQ page, if you haven't already.
posted by not_on_display at 4:38 PM on January 29, 2012

The Unicode proposal process includes a lot of formal requirements for documenting why certain characters belong. Sometimes they have beautifully detailed descriptions on what's a real character vs. just a glyph variant, sometimes the justification is "because it's like that in another common code system", etc. See the links on that page for a couple of repositories of previous proposals; here's one full of interesting things to look at. You can also find a lot of discussion archived in the Unicode mailing list.

What I don't know of is a single database that has the history of every character indexed by codepoint. That may exist, I hope so!
posted by Nelson at 4:42 PM on January 29, 2012

FWIW, Ů is Czech.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:45 PM on January 29, 2012

More than you ever wanted to know about incomplete infinity (PDF). It's a set theory thing, apparently. But I haven't managed to find a use of the symbol.
posted by hoyland at 5:00 PM on January 29, 2012

I recently stumbled upon the Unicode emoticon page. "Face screaming in fear" indeed (1F631).
posted by mr vino at 6:01 PM on January 29, 2012

Response by poster: Ironically, that's one I do know the origin of (I consider "it's emoji" to be enough of an explanation for those).
posted by wanderingmind at 6:04 PM on January 29, 2012

It looks like the wiki spaces in (subject of an fpp) were/are an attempt to crowdsource the kind of information you are looking for. It is very spotty (and, I suppose, unauthoritative) in its coverage but has, for example, the u with ring.
posted by gubo at 6:33 PM on January 29, 2012

ᴪ is used in some non-IPA phonetics, as explained here.
posted by scruss at 7:00 PM on January 29, 2012

Wikipedia is pretty good for this. You can usually get an article about the character or a character set it belongs to by pasting the character into the search box.

Some examples: ů, ǂ, ƻ. ħ, Ȣ, , , ק, Ԃ, , ϡ.
posted by nangar at 7:27 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

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