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What Is the Section Sign?

The section sign (§) is a typographical character used to reference a particular section of a document, often seen in legal texts and statutes. It guides readers to specific information, streamlining navigation through complex material. Curious about its origins and how it's used in modern writing? Dive deeper to uncover the symbol's intriguing history and current applications. What might you discover?
Emily Daw
Emily Daw

The section sign, or §, is a glyph or typographical mark used most often to designate a particular section within a document. It is also known as the double “s” or sectional symbol, or by its Latin name, signum sectionis. Its precise history is not known, but it most likely came from combining the two letters "SS," which is the abbreviation of signum sectionis. The section sign may also be used to designate a footnote or as an abbreviation for the Latin scilicet, meaning "It is permitted to know."

As its name suggests, the section sign's most common use is to refer to a specific section in a longer document, especially a legal document. For example, §11 would refer the reader to Section 11. If Section 11 has more than one paragraph, there might also be a “pilcrow,” or paragraph symbol, to indicate which particular paragraph is referenced, as in: §11¶5. To refer to several sections of a document, two section signs would appear in a row, as in: §§6–12 or §§5, 13. This is similar to the usage of "p." to refer to a single page and "pp." to designate multiple pages of a book or document.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

An abbreviation for scilicet is a secondary use of the section sign. Scilicent, which can also be written as Sc. or SS, literally means "It is permitted to know." It is generally followed by a clarification of what came before; for instance, "He saw the situation for what it was, § a robbery."

Occasionally, the section sign will be used as a marker for a footnote when the asterisk mark (*) has already been used in the document or on that particular page. This usage is not very common, however. More often, when a document has multiple footnotes, these will be designated with numbered superscripts such as 1, 2, etc.

The section sign is not found on a typical keyboard, but can be produced on a computer by a variety of codes. In HTML, the code is § or §. In ASCII, it is alt+245. In Unicode, it is U+00A7. Other codes also exist for use with particular software. Anyone needing to know how to insert the symbol in a given program can simply search for "section sign" within the help menu.

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