Move over, ampersand, there's a new symbol in town

First aired on As It Happens (10/7/13)


"Why does 'and' have all the fun?" That's what the promotional video (which you can watch above) for a new symbol for the word "the"asks. "The" is the most common word in the English language, and is used more often than "and", which is only the fifth most common word. Australian inventor Paul Mathis is out to give "the" its symbolic due. He's created a symbol for "the" and hopes it will become as popular as the ampersand, saving texters and tweeters two precious character spaces every time they want to type "the".

Mathis came up with the idea when he was on vacation in Singapore. He was spending hours on his iPad texting his friends and tweeting about his vacation. Mathis tends to make a lot of mistakes when he types, often typing t-e-h instead of t-h-e. After making that mistake yet again, he had an epiphany. "I thought 'wow, I could use a symbol for that'," he told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. So he set out to find out to find one. When he realized the only symbol in existence was from Old English and fell out of fashion hundreds of years ago, he decided to take matters into his own hands and create one himself. The new symbol is an uppercase T and a lower case H, both in Helvetica font, merged together to form a single character.

Mathis believes the symbol is simple and intuitive, which makes it more appealing to use. Despite Apple rejecting his app for the symbol twice, response has been "really, really good," Mathis said. He's set up a website where people can download the symbol. While he doesn't know the exact number of downloads, he says it's in the thousands. However, he recognizes that just because people are downloading it doesn't mean they are using it. "Whether people use it immediately, well, that's another story. But I think eventually it will catch. I really, honestly do."

While the ultimate goal is to become as popular as the ampersand, Mathis doesn't care about the symbol being taught in English classes or being used in books. It was designed with digital communication in mind. "It's just a simple way to text and tweet," he said. "It just a way to make the digital space a little easier to use."

What do you think? Is the symbol for 'the' a handy tool? Or another way digital communication is hurting the English language?

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