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I have seen underscores and earmuffs (like _good_ or *good*) frequently used in conversations among programmers. All I know is that underscores are used to denote private variables or methods in languages like C, Python etc. and earmuffs are the preferred way of indicating that something is a global variable.

Do these have any other punctuational meaning when they are used outside code, in mailing lists etc? Does the highlighted word have any hidden meaning or expression added to it? Or, are they just like air quotes?

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closed as off topic by ChrisF Sep 25 '12 at 8:25

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Leading underscores can cause problems in C and C++, since some combinations of underscores and following characters and scopes are explicitly reserved for implementation use. – David Thornley Dec 15 '10 at 17:53
This belongs on Also, *'s are called asterisks or stars... earmuffs lolz, have u been watching too much wedding crashers recently? – Thomas Eding Sep 24 '12 at 23:35
@ThomasEding, I know stars and asterisks. Scope of questions might have changed, but this question belonged on this SE 2 years ago. – dheerosaur Sep 25 '12 at 10:40
up vote 18 down vote accepted

They tend to be used for emphasis:

No, that's *my* monkey.


No, that's _my_ monkey.

Asterisks can also be used to denote an action the person is supposedly doing at the time of the comment:

No, that's my monkey. *snatches monkey*

Or a description to apply to the comment

*firmly* No, that's my monkey.

In the examples you give though think of them as bold or italic for text that doesn't support rich text.

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And a *fine* monkey it is, too. – Rodney Gitzel Dec 16 '10 at 0:36
I tend to think that *this is bold* and /this is italics/. Never have I seen _this is something new to me_. – Thomas Eding Sep 24 '12 at 23:33
@Thomas. No, *this is emphasis* and /this is the use/mention distinction/ (both of these would be italics in formatted text). Other things that would go in italics, such as book or ship names, are left unformatted. – TRiG Feb 19 '13 at 16:30

This is not something that is specific to programmers, but occurs in electronical communications in general.

The underscores are used to mean underlining, and the asterisks are ment to indicate an action.


This is a _really_awesome_ feature. *clapping*
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In short...

  • *Earmuffs* usually denote actions, e.g. "Wow, that's pretty funny! *Laugh*"
  • _Underscores_ usually denote underlining. Used for emphasis.
  • I've also seen /slashes/ used to either suggest italicization or to refer to a 4chan board.
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It is just formatting for plain-text, very simple markup:

  • *something* smeans that text should be bold.
  • _something_ means underlined.
  • /something/ is italic.

And yes, the stack exchange formatter messes them up and makes bold and underscored italic, and /italic/ is nothing. :)

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SE uses correct markdown. The older convention you mention isn't all that widely recognized any more, except among us more "old school" types, as evidenced by this question. – HedgeMage Dec 15 '10 at 15:53

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