Geeky nods and power moves

If you would like to create a slightly unsettled feeling in your GitHub comments, one great way is to use [square brackets] to parenthesise a thought. In one small typographical choice you can simultaneously evoke a markdown rendering bug, a link syntax error, and the style-guide-driven English preferred by reputable newspapers, whose use of quotations appears quirky to those who thought the only options were “bottom” and “top”. To use the syntax is mundane; to so casually and seemingly accidentally misuse it… well, that’s a bit of a power move in my mind.

Not all textual tricks are so subtle. The combination of `backtick and apostrophe’ to produce “smart” single quotes in fixed-width font faces is occasionally misused in a variable-width world to advertise that the writer is really a terminal person who doesn’t care for all this new-fangled GUI business. To me this one is somewhat crass. (Disclosure: I did it for a year or two, long ago.) If the writer truly appreciated the correct appearance of quotes then they would consider the text style that is likely to be used by the reader and choose glyphs accordingly. Backtick-and-apostrophe signals that the writer seeks to use typography as a vessel for elitism in a completely unrelated field. This is not a power move, or as they’re saying these days (I think) not very poggers.

There is another approach which is especially discreet. If I tell you that there are 4–6 items in a list, either you are the sort of person who noticed that I appropriately used an en dash between those numerals or you are the sort of person who didn’t. Em dashes are much more widely known (as it were). You tend to become aware of en dashes either because you once read something about typesetting or because you got bored on your Mac and tried to figure out the purpose of all the different Option+key combinations. Including en dashes in your text is a great way to connect with others who also enjoy these fine hobbies.

There are plenty of other examples—was your degree symbol the real option-shift-8 or was it the option-0 or option-k imposters? It’s tempting to think that these missteps go unnoticed since they’re not frequently called out. The confounding thing is that the people most attuned to these differences are typically gentlefolk who wouldn’t make a fuss about it. What we type is being judged without consequence, every day. But if you do make an effort you might offer someone a pleasant surprise.