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and apparently can mean:

  1. A character: Why Subversion skips files which contain the @ symbol?
  2. Something in Ruby that's kind of like an enumerated value: Emacs ruby symbol word completion (approximately 60 questions)
  3. The name of a variable in LISP: common-lisp: difference between binding and symbol (12 questions)
  4. Something that occurs in C (the language the main implementation of Ruby is written in): Ruby 1.8.7: Symbol not found Error or C++ How do I list the symbols in a .so file (approximately 30 questions)

This ambiguity is particularly inconvenient as Ruby has questions in categories 1 (example and example), 2 and 4.

How should the tags be split up?

If someone would like to help with the retagging, that would be appreciated!

Edit: sixlettervariables has answered that category 1 should be replaced with or , and that category 3 is probably redundant. So now I want to know how to deal with categories 2 and 4. They shouldn't be using the same tag, and I don't want to use or !

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I've noticed a lot of questions under those tags have no business with those tags, and they appear to be added as Tag Porn. – user7116 Oct 26 '11 at 23:15

At least for category #1 (a character) we have the misapplication of a colloquial form of symbol rather than the more appropriate programming term or depending on their intended usage.

Category #2 seems to be akin to the LISP usage, albeit the usage in Ruby appears to be more pervasive. Reasonable understanding of the tag for Ruby programmers.

Category #3 was hard to find other comparable questions. I'd vote to remove these.

Category #4 (something that occurs in C...), in my not so humble opinion, is a very common usage of the term. If I were being argumentative, I'd say "identifiers in an object file" is the most common usage of the term.

If we put all of the questioners who believe symbol is interchangable with character and we put them on a boat and pushed them out to sea, I would wager a guess that of those who remain Category #4 is by far the most common usage followed closely by Category #2.

share|improve this answer
Should category 4 keep the "symbol" tag, or be renamed to the existing "debug-symbols" tag? – Andrew Grimm Oct 27 '11 at 0:24
Category 4 is not limited to C or to debug symbols. It is the usual term used when referring to compile-time or runtime linking. – Mat Oct 27 '11 at 5:23
<rant>Does anyone else have a strong dislike for the phrase "special character"? Most of the time it's used to refer to anything that's outside of the ASCII range. "ä" is not special, neither is "च". The most annoying thing about it is that those who use it always assume that everyone intuitively understands what makes a "special character".</rant> – Joachim Sauer Oct 27 '11 at 7:24
@Joachim it doesn't make me angry but it does make me laugh when askers accept (for example) [A-Za-z]* as a regex for 'only letters'. I bet they wouldn't regard १२३ as a number, either... – AakashM Oct 27 '11 at 9:46
@Mat: agreed. I was merely using Andrew's category. I've used Ruby once or twice but didn't realize they overloaded the term Symbol. Always thought it meant debug symbols (excepting of course our LISP friends). – user7116 Oct 27 '11 at 13:08
@JoachimSauer: one person's special characters is another person's ⎲. – user7116 Oct 27 '11 at 13:09
@JoachimSauer: What should be used instead? – Andrew Grimm Oct 27 '11 at 23:03
Is ⎲ and ⎳ the giant S Jeff keeps talking about? – Andrew Grimm Oct 28 '11 at 3:32
Is there any alternative to "symbol" for category 4? I'm hoping I don't have to rename category 2 to "ruby-symbol". – Andrew Grimm Nov 1 '11 at 3:10
could glyph be a synonym for #1? #2 and #3 are very similar constructs in different languages (see item 6 in this article ). And in some sense the Ruby Symbol (#3) is just the parser/compiler symbol from #4 made accessible from within the language. I'm not sure you need a separate tag. – AShelly Nov 2 '11 at 22:17
If you do want separate tags, you could use Symbol for the Ruby type and symbols for the parser/compiler/debugger construct. And use the tag wikis to explain the diffference. But that may be too fine a distinction for most people. – AShelly Nov 2 '11 at 22:21
@AShelly: That is devious and a blatant abuse of language. +1 – Andrew Grimm Nov 3 '11 at 7:36

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