This is a re-run form my old blog, originally posted on November 12, 2008. After hearing “backslash” on the radio this week, I decided it needed to be posted again.
The slash (/) that shares its key with the question mark is not a backslash. It’s a plain old forward slash, and should always simply be called “slash”. This is the same slash that you see in URLs.
I cringe every time I hear this done wrong, and it happens all the time on radio advertisements. Let me set the record straight:
If you’re reading the URL “nytimes.com/pages/world”, say, “nytimes dot com slash pages slash world”. Never call either of those things a backslash. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s wrong.
I suspect the confusion about slashes stems from Microsoft’s use of the backslash in DOS, the popular operating system from the 1990s. In filenames and paths, DOS used a backslash (\) to separate folder names. For instance, a folder name might be “C:\DOS”, or “C colon backslash DOS”. Unix systems didn’t use this convention, and that’s largely what the Internet is based on.
Of course, in the DOS days, computers were unforgiving. If you accidentally used a forward slash, things wouldn’t work. Today, if you unnecessarily use a backslash in a web browser, your computer now knows enough to ignore you and do the right thing.
Don’t believe me?
And while I’m on the subject, you never have to say or type “http://”, and you almost never need the “www”. Just say or type, “Google dot com”.