Is there a reason for this? I've occasionally used because it seemed more appropriate than , e.g. I'm having a hard time regarding using hobby MF font with LaTeX, adding accented characters as being about "symbols". One way or the other, we should use the tags consciously; seeing that is a synonym of already, should probably be a synonym as well because there's no relevant semantic difference between singular and plural.

Having learned more about how our tagging system works, should proabably be gotten rid of, if is made a synonym of .


Alright, now both tags have tag wikis that emphasize the difference between them, and we're kind of using them accordingly:

{symbols} is about specific non-alphabetic symbols or math symbols, e.g., about looking-up, constructing, or using symbols. For questions about {fonts} or alphabetic {characters} use the respective tag instead.

{characters} is about the regular alphabetic characters that are part of some script in a language. For accented characters, add {accents}. For non-alphabetic characters, use {symbols} instead.

As long as we're not doing any merging (and I'm actually not sure that would be the best idea), I'd say let's fix the weird synonyms for starters!

3 Answers 3


Indeed, character and symbol have different meanings.

  • Character stands for an abstract symbol, for the meaning of it, independent of the graphical representation.

  • Symbol means a glyph, the graphical representation.

In TeX and LaTeX, we have input and output, let's have a look.

  • Input means characters. For example we have questions regarding encoding. I guess not specifically about characters, since typing on keyboard is not a TeX topic and also how to get non-keyboard characters is more concerning the operating system.

  • Output means characters and symbols. There are more questions are about symbols than characters. For example, people rarely speak about a bullet character which could be represented by a filled circle or an empty one, or smaller like a dot. We speak about what should appear there.

Theoretically, we can cleanly separate characters if the actual glyph doesn't matter. But does it help the user, who comes here because of a character or symbol problem, does he differentiate? Does he know that he must type "character" for looking how to work with a backslash or a tilde (independent of the font), but not type "symbol"?

I think in practice it's ok to keep one tag for both. In consequence, we should make characters a synonym as well. I'll let that open for now, perhaps somebody would check and tell us, how many questions are really purely about characters.


Based on observation, I don't think that the typical user of tex.sx is likely to differentiate correctly between and . The problem is the same as in my former suggestion Split the {bibtex} tag into {bibtex-format} and {bibtex-program} -- the distinction is (somewhat) meaningful in theory, but confusing in practice. I'd say it's about time to make a synonym of .

  • I'm torn. I highly respect your expertise on tagging, but I'm really having a hard time putting the same label on symbol questions and character questions. Then again, we'd probably have to go through the 392 symbols questions and check if they're tagged correctly, if we distinguish characters and symbols ...
    – doncherry
    Jan 15, 2012 at 12:46
  • @doncherry Simply ask yourself: Is there a distinction between {characters} and {symbols} that is easier to grasp for "typical" users than the distinction between {bib-format} (about the .bib file format) and {bibtex-program} (about being versed in bibtexs postfix stack language). If you can't come up with such an easy-to-grasp distinction, then it's time to merge.
    – lockstep
    Jan 15, 2012 at 12:50
  • how about "character-symbol" and "character-internal"? ("character-code" means something else entirely.) i do see a useful distinction between the terms "symbol" ans "character" but agree that a novice might not. Jan 15, 2012 at 13:42
  • @barbarabeeton Perhaps add your own answer to the present question and suggest definitions for the two tags.
    – lockstep
    Jan 15, 2012 at 13:46

the names "symbol" and "character" mean quite different things to me, although i agree that they might not to a novice. how about these "enhanced" names to distinguish:

  • character-symbol
  • character-internal

"character-code" means something else entirely, so isn't appropriate.

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