Unix Guru : Backslash or the legend of Ulta Talwar Singh

I had a question for our Unix Guru Old Nick this morning. 

"Nick, I kind of woke up in the middle of last night with this question in my head. I could barely sleep afterwards. So I thought I would ask you," I said. "Why is there even a backslash? It feels so unintuitive, it is kinda harder to draw compared to forward slash, it really feels like an afterthought to me. What do you think? Why is there a backslash?"

"Well, I have pondered this question in the past," Nick said, gently running his fingers through his beard. "What I learned is that the history goes back to one Ulta Talwar Singh, a venerated swordsman of the British Raj army in India. He was known to cut people into two with a single backward slash of his sword..."

"But, but," I interrupted, "I am talking of backslash in computers."

Nick guffawed. "Oh, that! I think it came in because there was an extra key to name in the old Teletype keyboards, since there is no previously known use case for backslash. However, the biggest day for backslash came when it was included, based on that Teletype legacy, in the extended character set standard proposed by IBM. Then Unix found an use for it as an 'escape' character. So, there you have it. You can't get rid of it anymore."

"You forgot Windows," I reminded. "They use backslash too."

"Actually it was MSDOS where the mess up happened," said Nick. "MSDOS started using forward slash as command line options, so they had no way other than using backslashes for file path. Anyway, the entire Windows thing is a giant f***-up..."

I knew I had to stop Nick before he rambles on about his pet peeve, Windows. So I looked outside, and said, "Nice day, isn't it?"

"I don't think so. Everything is progressively getting worse," Nick said, as he got up to leave.


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