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We have symbol names (tilde, ampersand, caret) and then, you know, symbol names (greater than, less than).

Here’s the crux: I need some suggestions for a better way of naming "<" and
">". By the book, they’re greater than and less than. But I wonder what
others call them when talking through html tags, naming them, that is, more as punctuation marks than as terms for comparing quantities.

There are too many words involved with greater than and less than, and I have
the same concern with caret tipped left, caret tipped right
(although I do find them snappier). Plus, the left/right references bog me down
because I’m one of those who, well, let’s just say I have to think about
right and left. Might be because I had left-handed tendencies until they
schooled them out of me back in ’79. Another entry for another time.

Right now I’m concerned with finding a better way of naming greater than and
less than when talking about html tags (it’s what I do, too many days:
sit around and talk about code).

Maybe prime and cap? Because they’re short and slide neatly between noun and verb. Ex: A paragraph tag is
prime p cap. But I’m sure there are other names. Suggestions?


  1. I’ve always been partial to “the aligator mouths,” but that doesn’t help you with distinguishing one from the other.

    I remember being in 1st grade and having to correct our own homework while the teacher recited the answers: “Greater than…. less than… greater than… greater than…” and that I had NO IDEA which one pointed which way. The symbol, no matter which way it points, has a greater than side and a less than side.

    That was, I believe, the beginning of a long spiral downward into my fear and hatred for math and numbers.

    This doesn’t help you, I know. Whenever I teach/use html, I call them open caret and close caret. Which is probably wrong, but OL.

  2. Heh. Yeah, alligator mouths. That reminds me of the many times D. and I (rarely at the same time) helped Ph. distinguish big and little relationships by drawing in the teeth. Chomp! Math as nightmarish, for sure.

    “OL”? Onlya Little?

  3. What a great question! I have thought about this myself . . . and I find that “the little greater than/less than caret thingies” doesn’t really work. I’m with Madeline, though. Open and closed carats works for me.

  4. Typically when I talk through code to a non-code person, I refer to the less-than as the open angle bracket (because it is the first character used to surround the name of the tag) and the greater-than as the close angle bracket (because it is the last character used to surround the name of the tag). “Angle” differentiates it from “square,” “bracket” describes its purpose when looking at the construction of the tag/tag pair, and people are used to saying things like “open parenthesis” and “close parenthesis” so it’s not terribly foreign to them.

    Also, it avoids “left” and “right” … something I still screw up on a daily basis!

  5. I use the term angle bracket too. I do, however, refer to them as left and right. When I look at them on my keyboard, the left, or open, angle bracket is left of the right, or closed, angle bracket.

  6. I call em angle brackets as well, but once your students are familiar with them, what about just saying “code” and “uncode” in the same way that you’d say quote-unquote? It’s calling them by function rather than name, but definitely a whole lot easier than angle bracket, alligator mouth, or remembering which side is less and which greater…


  7. We call ’em just brackets in the office. In HTML it’s not often that you use the [ variety. So for line breaks it would be “open bracket br closed bracket”.

  8. This is funny! I’ve been teaching some html this semester and calling them “little pointy brackets” (always said with a hand gesture). I had a typing teaching in high school (long before “keyboarding”) who called the semicolon key “ooo.” After he called it ooo for a while, we all called it ooo. So we just need two corresponding sounds for the left pointy bracket and the right one. Another way is to borrow, like l-sand and r-sand?

  9. I’ve used the term “angle brackets” as well as “open bracket” and “close bracket,” like Lisa. But I think Collin’s “code”/”uncode” (or “end code”) is brilliant.

  10. “Caret tipped left” and “caret tipped right” sound like you’re either describing a heraldic shield or giving someone nautical directions: “Move eight knots, caret tipped right, or you’ll run into the tugboat.”

    Like Mike, my vote goes to Collin for “code/ uncode.” It gives the students the function, and that’ll make it easier to remember.

    But that’s no fun, right?

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  12. How about
    left arrow for
    They are really arrowheads, but left arrowhead is too long.

    code/uncode could conflict with HTML4’s (perhaps).

    Maybe you could say
    opencode for

  13. The comment editor or MYSQL database clipped off some code:
    It should read:
    “left arrow” for the “right mouth” symbol
    “right arrow” for the “left mouth symbol
    opencode or startcode for the “less than” symbol
    closecode or stopcode for the “greater than” symbol

  14. If you want a simple word to describe each what about “More” and “Less”?
    To differentiate them from the English words you could trim that down to Mor and Les.

    As to the mathematical side mentioned by Madeline I always found this symbol to be one of the most beautiiful and logical mathematical symbols for the very reason that it could go either way:

    100 > 95; 95 = or >/) and less than or equal to (= or >/) and less than or equal to (<= or\<)have never had a single character assigned on the keyboard so we don't even have to go there!

  15. Sorry, that last bit got garbled;
    100>95; 95<100
    THe jaws of the "crocodile" are always open towards the larger number

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