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Q: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ????? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ?????
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: gosborne-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 12 Aug 2004 05:13 PDT
Expires: 11 Sep 2004 05:13 PDT
Question ID: 386870
What does H^H^H^H^H^H mean, and where does it come from.
(Often seen on /.)
Subject: Re: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ?????
Answered By: smudgy-ga on 12 Aug 2004 09:20 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi gosborne,

I hope you find the following answer satisfactory. If not, please
request a clarification before rating and I will do my best to resolve
any issues.

This is an old humor technique used by UNIX geeks: the ultimate source
has to do with the way different computer terminals handled the
keyboard instructions. Basically, some terminals sent the "backspace"
command when Backspace was pressed, and some terminals sent the
"Delete" or "control-H" command when backspace was pressed.

If the host computer or program was not configured to recognize
"delete" as its backspace command, when Backspace was pressed, the
characters "^H" would appear on the screen, rather than actually
deleting the characters. (The ^ is the computer's shorthand for
"control".) So if you are typing very quickly and somewhat
inattentively, and your computer's backspace command is set up
incorrectly, you might type something, decide to backspace it, and
continue; but what actually happens is that a row of ^H^H^H^H appears
instead of actually having backspaced the typing.

Here's a post from an EMACS list that might hint at the complexitites
of setting up "backspace" vs. "ctrl-h":

This is exploited for humor purposes by UNIX/internet geeks, the
implication being that they decided to type something nasty, thought
better of it, then "tried" to backspace over it and write something
nicer. Of course, "their terminal was sending the wrong backspace
signal" so they "accidentally" failed to delete their uncharitable

The effect is something like this:

"He's such a loser^H^H^H^H^Hnice guy."

It's kind of a computer nerd equivalent of indicating a "Freudian
slip" typographically.

Here's an example and an explanation from USENET:

--- begin quote ---

Subject: Re: Wintrolls why aren't you FUD^H^H^Hpushing TCO?

FYI, the backspace character is also accessible from most keyboards using 
"Ctrl-H". If not handled by a program it's commonly displayed as follows: 
"^H".  If you want to *show* that you were thinking one thing but saying 
another, you can visually do that by manually typing the caret, then "H", 
once for each letter of the preceding word. This indicates your intention 
to backspace over your original inflammatory choice of words and type a 
more politically correct alternative.

To others: sorry for the tortured explanation, but this guy's obviously too 
stupid^H^H^H^H^H^Hinexperienced to pass criticism on Usenet conventions.

--- end quote ---

Another use for this humorous device is to indicate that something has
gone through a recent or notorious name-change. Here's an example:

--- begin quote ---

Not all systems running on Alpha processors add 3 bytes of padding to
FDDI headers to align the payload on a 4-byte boundary; for example,
Linux/Alpha doesn't appear to do so, which causes filter expressions not
to work correctly on FDDI on Linux/Alpha.

The "__alpha" test was really intended to check for DEC
OSF/1^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^HDigital UNIX^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Tru64 UNIX,
so test "__osf__" instead.

--- end quote ---

The basic idea behind the usage of this device is to indicate that the
author (humorously or ironically) had second thoughts about what to
type and changed his mind.

One more example, this time indicating an intended reference by the author:

"Waiting for Godot^H^H^H^H^HLonghorn"

As with many humorous devices, the usage of this device has begun to
expand from its original meaning of "mistaken revelation of second
thoughts about what to type."

I hope you find this answer satisfactory. If not, please request a
clarification and I will do my best to clear things up.


Google search terms:


Google groups search terms:

gosborne-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $3.00
That was a poor^H^H^H^Hreally good response - thankyou!!


Subject: Re: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ?????
From: erick2-ga on 12 Aug 2004 09:55 PDT
that's funny!!!!
Subject: Re: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ?????
From: ipfan-ga on 12 Aug 2004 10:19 PDT
That is an excellent answer, Smudgy!  Very interesting and well-written.
Subject: Re: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ?????
From: pinkfreud-ga on 12 Aug 2004 10:21 PDT
Great answer, smudgy! 

I love Google Answers. I learn something here every day.
Subject: Re: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ?????
From: owain-ga on 12 Aug 2004 16:02 PDT
It's a nice explanation. I always thought it originated from the
keystrokes used in text editors - ^H (or Control-H) deleted letters,
and ^W deleted words.

So you could use ^H to indicate removal of li^Hetter and ^W to
indicate removal of woofles^Wwords.


Those WordStar commands were a long time ago ...
Subject: Re: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ?????
From: smudgy-ga on 12 Aug 2004 18:49 PDT
Thanks owain; I'd forgotten about ^W, but yes, sometimes you see some
humor using that as well (in basically the same vein as above). I
think that the use of ^H as a deletion command in old-skool word
processing programs like WordStar is basically a direct implementation
of an already-established use for the ^H control code, though that's
admittedly a guess.

I do know that it's occurred more than once that I have a terminal
window set up incorrectly and my backspace key starts spewing ^H's
everywhere. Quite a frustration.

Subject: Re: H^H^H^H^H^H^H ?????
From: silver777-ga on 18 Aug 2004 06:54 PDT
You guys are amazing with your research. I often use the questions as
a game like Trivial Pursuit. Guess first, then look at your answers. I
thought that H^H^H^ was part of the chemical formula for life, DNA, or
H to the power of H approaching infinity.

I am an idiotH^H^H^H^H^great guy!


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