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Term for ‘Ghostbusters’ logo frighteningly elusive |
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Term for ‘Ghostbusters’ logo frighteningly elusive

| Friday, July 15, 2016 8:57 p.m

The new “Ghostbusters” movie raises an urgent question — no, not “Who ya’ gonna call?” (which, of course, should properly be rendered “WHOM ya’ gonna call?”).

Instead, it’s “WHAT ya’ gonna call the red circle with the slash through it in the ‘Ghostbusters’ logo?” (You know, the roly-poly ghost — Casper on Oreos —stuffed behind the canceled-out sign.)

We need a handy term for this symbol. Fast.

Consider this tortured description of it from a recent newspaper story: “Many protesters were wearing identical stickers with a ‘Ghostbusters’ circle with a slash through the center of the circle to show they oppose Senate Bill 14.” We must do better.

When I searched the Internet for a term to describe this symbol of prohibition, I was, appropriately enough, slimed.

All the names proposed by contributors to various blogs and websites —“no symbol,” “circle slash,” “no circle,” “prohibition sign,” “universal no” — pose problems.

“No symbol” and “no circle” might be misinterpreted to indicate the absence of any symbol. “Prohibition sign” is too lengthy and “universal no” sounds like the response I got when I asked girls to my high school prom.

“Circle slash” is technically incorrect because the line isn’t a slash; it’s a backslash, (slanting upper left to lower right) — EXCEPT, amazingly enough, in the “Ghosbusters” logo. So even the movie doesn’t use the correct symbol of prohibition.

Other proposed names are maddeningly esoteric: “null set” (from algebra); “interdictory circle,” (say what?) and “combining enclosing circle backslash” (I’m not making this up).

Some people say the symbol should be called a “bar sinister” because in French and Scottish heraldry, this was the name for a slanting line placed across someone’s coat of arms to indicate he’d been born a bastard. No wonder that busted ghost looks so, well, illegitimate.

I searched to see how frequently each term has appeared in print over the years, but this proved futile; some phrases, such as “no symbol” and “no circle,” have other meanings, and some, such as “circle slash,” don’t show up.

But I did discover that the use of “prohibition sign” has increased 400 percent since 1986, a possible indication of its increasing application to the symbol.

So what we gonna call it? A friend’s wife dubs it a “nixit.” Short, simple, to the point. I like it. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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