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Calculator spelling (also known as beghilos, the alphabet of available letters) is a technique of spelling words by reading characters upside-down from calculators equipped with certain kinds of seven-segment displays. It is a form of transformation of text.
An unintended characteristic of the seven-segment display is that many numbers, when read upside-down, resemble letters of the Latin alphabet. Each digit can be mapped to one or more letters, creating a limited but functional subset of the alphabet.
The graphic below illustrates with the sequence "250714638" appearing inverted as "BEghILOSZ":
Certain calculators omit the topmost stem on the digit "6" and the bottom-most stem on the "9". In such cases, "6" renders a lowercase "q" when turned upside-down, and "9" appears as a lowercase "b".
Other variants of calculator spelling alphabets consider "0" to be a capital "D" instead of "O", "6" (not used in the standard Beghilos) as a lowercase "g" (as opposed to uppercase represented by 9) and "9" as either a reversed lowercase "a" or an at sign (@), both of which represent the letter A.
Extending the available alphabet to hexadecimal notation (generally available on lower-end scientific calculators, though not on basic models), "b" and "d" correspond to "z" and "p" respectively. "F" transforms to a "j" A, C, and E do not transform readily to recognizable letters. C transforms to a J, which is recognizable and distinct enough to the point where it can be used as J. E transforms to 3, which has little use, though it can be used on an ad hoc basis as a sideways M or W. Upside-down A is Y.
Using leet, additional letters can be represented by combinations of letters (11/II or 2 ["Z" being very rare in English] representing "two" or "to", 111/III representing "three", 15/SI, 935/SEa or 335/SEE for "C", etc.). This is generally rare and, especially in the last case (using a spelling-out of a letter) severely limits readability.
Only certain calculators are capable of being used for beghilos calculator spelling. LCD, VFD, LED, and Panaplex displays are best for spelling words. The ability of dot-matrix displays, fourteen-segment and sixteen-segment displays to render most characters defeats the purpose of spelling with a limited alphabet.
If the calculator is instead rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise from upright to create a vertical display, a different, but less useful, set of letters can be reproduced:
If the calculator is instead rotated 90 degrees clockwise from upright to create a vertical display, still a different, but less useful, set of letters can be reproduced:
Placing a calculator in front of a mirror produces the following character set:
Aside from novelty and amusement, calculator spelling has limited utility. The popularity of pagers in the 1990s gave rise to a form of leetspeak called pagerspeak. Students, in particular, experimented with calculators to discover new words.
The 'original' attributed example of calculator spelling, which dates from the 1970s, is 5318008, which when turned over spells "BOOBIES". Another early example of calculator spelling offered the sequence 0.7734, which becomes "hELLO". Other words possible with the traditional "BEghILOSZ" set include "LOOSE", "ShELL", "BEIgE", "gOBBLE", "gOOgLE", and very many others. Two of the longest, at 11 letters, are "hILLBILLIES" and "SLEIghBELLS" (these require 12-digit displays, such as those used in adding machines). Hip hop slang applications include the sequence 3722145 which spells "ShIZZLE". On certain 10 digit calculators the number 5304577351 spells "I SELL ShOES", the number 77151345 spells "ShE IS ILL", or the number 7715134 spells "hE IS ILL".
One classic schoolyard story involving calculator spelling goes like this: There once was a girl who had 69 boobs. That was too,too,too(222) many. So she went to 51 street to see Dr. X and he ate (8) them all and she came out (flip calculator upsidedown to reveal the word boobless. (6922251*8=55378008) OR There was once a woman who had 69 (69)inch boobs. She wanted them smaller so she went to the doctor who prescribed her 2 (2) tablets twice (2) a day for two (2) weeks. After that she had 51 (51) inch boobs which was still too big so she had an x-ray (x) and 8 (8) operations and ended up boobless. (6922251x8=55378008)
Scientific and programmer calculators
Scientific calculators that feature hexadecimal readout using the letters A through F offer more flexibility. Using a scientific calculator with hex capability, the earlier "b00b1E5" example can be improved with the A–F keys to spell "B00B1E5", without needing to rotate the display (a practice known as hexspeak).
Students often use this capability and the improved "alpha" feature that use the letters "A" through "Z" to write messages, separating words by using the minus sign ("-") or other punctuation. In the "B00B1E5" example above, for instance, a factorial product sign ("!") can be added to create "B00B!E5!" Most of these calculators do not use seven-segment displays, instead using dot matrix displays for greater versatility.
When accessed through programming, calculator spelling can provide a form of textual feedback in devices with limited output ability. A programmer creates a wider set of letters, which does not require a reader to turn the device upside-down. Many consumer devices including digital cameras resort to variants of calculator spelling in order to display diagnostic or status information in non-alphanumeric displays. For example, many Minolta cameras display "Err" or "HELP" to indicate various problems.
Calculator spelling is also used in other languages:
- An example understood in many languages is 707 + 707 = 1414. In calculator spelling this is LOL + LOL = hIhI. The word LOL (from laughing out loud) is nearly universally adopted as a Leet/SMS acronym, hihi (like "heehee") also stands for laughter.
- In Italian, 0.7738135 (upside down 'SEI BELLO') means 'you are handsome', and 0.5535 ('SESSO') means 'sex'.
- In Portuguese, 50135 ('SEIOS'), means 'breasts', and is directly analogous to the English "58008/BOOBS".
- In Turkish, "1837837/LEBLEBI" meaning 'roasted chickpeas' and "3732732/ZELZELE", meaning 'earthquake' are common examples.
- In German, a common word in calculator spelling is 7353/ESEL, which translates to 'donkey'. A possible calculation is: 170/OLI + 173/ELI = 343/EHE, meaning "Oli + Eli = marriage".
- In Luxembourgish, a common word in calculator spelling is 7107253000, which translates to 'snow', which itself translates to 'an extra day off', especially in the satellite industry
- In Spanish, entering 15 (upside down) or 51 (right side up) produces "SI," which translates in English to either "yes" or "if" depending on whether or not there is an accented i. Another example is formed by writing 50538 (upside-down "BESOS"), which means "kisses". And 0.7715708 which produces "bolsillo" and translates in English to pocket.
- A common example in Polish and several other Slavic languages is 71830 (upside-down "DEBIL"), meaning "retard".
- In French adding one digit to the Polish example displays DEBILE (371830). "Débile" means "dumb", or "stupid". 713705 displays "soleil" ("sun", in English).
- In Hebrew, while calculator is right side up, 71070 spells סרסור (sarsur, "pimp"), 7109179 for פרופסור ("professor"), 7979 for פרפר (parpar, "butterfly").
- In Serbian, 351831 (alternatively 351837), spells JEBI SE, translated in English as "fuck you"; additionally, 83741037 spells JEDI hLEB, which translates, in English, to "eat bread" (as in telling someone to eat bread). 3515380 spells OBESI SE, which means "hang yourself", and 3515 is the equivalent to the English BOOBS, spelling SISE.
- In Portuguese, 5013550738 (upside down) spells "belosseios" (nice boobs).
- The Dutch rock band 35007's name comes from the calculator-spelling of the word "Loose".
- According to the 2010 episode of The Simpsons entitled Moe Letter Blues, the animated sitcom takes place in ZIP Code 80085 because in calculator spelling, the ZIP code is BOOBS. The ZIP code could also be 60065 as "boobs".
- In 1979 the Hollies released an album entitled 5317704 which is HOLLIES in upside down calculator.
- On November 4, 2013, a Google logo honored Shakuntala Devi, known as the "Human Calculator", by spelling "Google" with the numbers 379009 inverted which read "6006LE".
- ASCII art
- Seven-segment display character representations
- Transformation of text
- Pager Language | Teens Create Language of Pager-Speak - Los Angeles Times
- The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006), Eric Partridge, Tom Dalzell, Terry Victor, pp. 2160
- "Words that can be written on a calculator". Everything2. Everything Development Co. 2000-03-13.
- Rechnerspielereien, 1973, Publisher Gundig (German); translates directly as "Calculator Games". (No ISBN or author available.)
- Calculator Haikus – Some examples and a report of finding a total of 118 English words possible to display using the upside-down technique
- A list of 250 calculator-spellable English words – A list of calculator spelling words generated by regular expression search
- Taschencode Advanced (German) – Software to emulate an upside-down calculator (MS Windows only)
- Topsy-Turvy Calculator – An upside-down calculator
- Historias de Calculadora (Spanish) – A list of calculator-spellable Spanish words, and Logo code to convert them to numbers
- The Ultimate List – An 824 word list and an extended 1455 word list of English words possible to display on an upside down calculator, HTML code to aid their creation plus three 'micro stories' using only the available words.