§ (section sign)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by William Stein, Oct 7, 2012.

  1. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    Hi everybody,

    I'm a US translator who transates from various languages into English for UK and European audiences. A US colleague who lectured in England told me that the Brits (even lawyers!) don't know what the section sign means ( §). I find that hard to believe because it's made of two S's and I have always assumed that it's an old, well-established English symbol. It's incredibly practical in translations because you can just put §3.3.1 instead of worrying about article/section/subsection, etc.

    In short, my question is, is it okay to use the section sign in documents for the UK?

  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    It's familiar to me, William - though I've always thought of it as a paragraph sign rather than a "section sign".
  3. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    Thanks, maybe it's just because of MS-Word, but I've always thought of the paragraph sign as the smashed-up version of two P's (PP) at the end of the paragrah. A lot of Europeans tend to say "paragraph" in legal texts were we (at least in the US) say section. For me a paragraph is a typographical unit of one or more sentences set off from the rest of the text, whereas a section can contain lots of what I call "paragraphs".
  4. -mack-

    -mack- Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    American English
    Sounds like you may need to ask some British lawyers yourself. Many Americans wouldn't know the symbol; I'm sure most lawyers would, but not all Americans in general. Your colleague may be mistaken! :)
  5. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    That's exactly what I'm trying to do, or at least a UK law student. I think any US university students would know it because it's not just used in law, it's used in all kinds of textbooks.

    According to Wikipedia, it's called the paragraph sign in Europe, as Loob said, but the meaning seems to be the same (so I'll use it, and devil take the hindmost!):
    The section sign (§) is a typographical character used mainly to refer to a particular sectionof a document, such as a legal code.[1]. It is also called "double S", "sectional symbol", signum sectiōnis.
    In Europe, the § is called the paragraph symbol (or token, or sign).
    It is frequently used along with the pilcrow (¶), or paragraph sign (which is what § is called in Europe). When duplicated, as §§, it is read as the plural "sections" (§§ 13–21), much as "pp." (pages) is the plural of "p." (short for the Latin pagina). The likely origin of the section sign is the digraph formed by the combination of two S'es (from the Latin signum sectionis).
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2012
  6. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 76)
    UK English
    I have only ever met § in Swedish, where it is used in laws and in minutes. I never use it when I translate minutes since a) I have never seen it in English minutes and b) it just seems unnecessary.
  7. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    I'm sure it is superfluous in minutes because you don't have a big hierarchical structure of sections and subsections, but you would certainly understand that "see §13.3 above" means "see section 13.3 above", right?
  8. The symbol is not well known in the UK, probably because as far as I know it has never featured on the standard keyboard.

    I wouldn't know how to go about finding out how to type it.

  9. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 76)
    UK English
    But I don't think of it in this way, since I don't know whether to call it a section or a paragraph.

    Note to Rover_KE: it is produced by ALT + 21.
  10. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    Wow, I guess it really isn't common in the UK. Anyway, from a purely "behavioralist" standpoint, you would react to "see §13.3 above"" by going to the appropriate section/paragraph/subsection/subparagraph (or whatever you want to call the *&%$% thing), right?
  11. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 76)
    UK English
    Yes. I have also thought that § is a convenient symbol. But when I look at laws I only see "s." for section.
  12. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    What do they do for the plural "sections' in the UK, "ss"?
  13. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 76)
    UK English
    Yes. I see ss (for sections) and pp (for pages), for example.
    I can't state authoritatively that § is not used in law texts as I'm not a lawyer, but I have never seen it.
  14. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    William, perhaps it would be helpful if you could tell us a bit more about how you want to use it? I'm pretty sure my familiarity with it is derived from textbooks/academic papers, and that I've come across it primarily in the sort of context you mention in post 10: "see §13.3 above" or in footnotes: "Stein et al, p 63, §13.3".

    Not being a lawyer, I don't know if it's used in legal texts to refer to a particular sub-section of an Act
    . Like e2efour, I don't recall seeing it used in that way....
  15. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    Okay, thanks. I guess this is yet another case of "two peoples separated by a common language". I generally hate abbreviations (especially non-standard ones). As a translator, they're the bane of my existence. It takes forever to find out which of the 9 million possible meanings they're intended to have and after all that they only count as a single word! Still, I think I'll persist in my error in this case because I really think that "see §13.3 above" wouldn't cause any problems to any reader of the contract (who would generally be a lawyer with the stuff I do).
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2012
  16. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    I almost always translate contracts, so it's usually referring to other sections of the contract, but it could also refer to a relevant law (e.g., see §257 (a) of the German Commercial Code).
  17. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Ah, right, then you need a lawyer - perhaps one will come along soon!:)
  18. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    I happen to have a copy of the US Copyright Law, and it's used throughout to head sections. E.g., I've just opened the book at random and found the heading: § 107 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

    As an editor, I've routinely used the symbol to indicated a point where a new paragraph should begin.
  19. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Isn't William asking about the use of § in the UK, Parla - and in particular about the use of § to refer to particular sections of UK contracts and/or legislation?:confused:
  20. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Oops, Loob, I just went back to look at post #1, and you're right. The discussion seemed to have got more general somewhere along the line. Mods: If my post's deemed irrelevant, please kill it.
  21. jarabina Senior Member

    English - Scotland

    This site has UK laws on it. I have not seen the section symbol being used and personally I always translate it as section or s. If you look at the amendments and annotations you will see that s. is used as an abbreviation for section and that section is used within the acts themselves.
  22. eyeofhorus Senior Member

    English - Ireland
    I translate for a big accountancy firm in CEE, and we see this constantly (German, Polish, Czech, Slovak) - it's so ubiquitous that on a Czech keyboard, it's got its own key (where our apostrophe is).

    In English, we always translate it as Section (cap).
  23. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    I agree with Rover. I've seen it used in Germany, but never in my neck of the woods.
  24. It has no official use in BrE, although it is familiar to many of us.

    The British abbreviation for plural sections is Ss.
  25. megamash New Member

    English - UK
    I am UK English and use the section sign a lot as a business architect and analyst. Very useful when referring to reams of legislation as I do on a daily basis.
  26. de Montpoulet

    de Montpoulet Member

    Ardèche, France
    France, French
    I am France French, I've always used the paragraph sign in French and found myself quite frustrated to see educational exercises in English using instead the long abbreviation "para". After what I read above, I'm going to introduce the sign into my English courses, even if it's officially British English. :D
  27. tsoapm

    tsoapm Senior Member

    Emilia–Romagna, Italy
    English (England)
  28. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    As an aside, § is also known as a "silcrow" after the pilcrow ->

    I would restrict the use of § to legal documents.

Share This Page