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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, including:
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 "q" and "p" respectively. "F" transforms to a mixture between a "J" and a "t". A and C do not transform readily to recognizable letters. E transforms to 3. C transforms to an open O. Upside-down A is the # sign.
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, including:
|Letter:||O, 0||-||N||M, m||J||u||b||c, r||∞, oo||a||a||Q||u||70||W, w||u|
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, including:
|Letter:||O, 0||-||N||W, w||c||u||a,||J||∞, oo||b||D||a||n||a||M, m||n|
Placing a calculator in front of a mirror produces the following character set, including:
|Letter:||O||I||S, 5||E||Y||Z, 2||a||r, T||B, 8||e||A||d||)||b||3||z|
|Letter:||O||-||u||m, M||2||N||q||l, 1, I, 7||∞, 00||q||D||D||u, U||a||w, W||u|
|Letter:||O||-||u||w, W||t||N||p, P||L||∞, 00||a||a||D||u, U||q||m, M||u|
|Letter:||O/D/0||I/l/1||S/5||E||n'||Z/2/z||e||J||B/8||d, a||W||p/P||C, c||q||E||t|
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". Another common number, 7734206, spells "gO 2 hELL". 8008 is special in that it can spell "BOOB" upside-down or right-side up.
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 "B00B1E5!" 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/80085".
- 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 longer one would be 31907018/BIOLOGIE, the German word for biology. A possible calculation is: 170/OLI + 173/ELI = 343/EHE, meaning "Oli + Eli = marriage".
- 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, 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).
- In Filipino, 708708 (upside down) spells BOLBOL (pubic hair).
- In Russian, 0.7931505 (upside down 'SOSI EBLO') means 'suck my face', and 1505 ('SOSI') means 'suck me'.
- In Dutch, 7083170 spells upside down "OLIEBOL" (a traditional snack, especially eaten around newyear) and 318537 upside down spells "LESBIE" ("Lesbian" in English). 73083734 spells upside down "hELEBOEL" meaning "a lot", which is always a good outcome of a long calculation.
- The Dutch rock band 35007's name comes from the calculator-spelling of the word "Loose".
- The German artist Peter Maffay published an album called 38317 in 1991, which reads "LIEBE" (love) in calculator spelling.
- The Swedish metal band Sabaton has a song titled "7734", which is "HELL" in calculator spelling.
- 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 calculator spelling.
- 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 "GOOGLE".
- In Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail!, Larry misreads two numbers on a desk phone's LCD because he is reading them upside down: "1134" as "hEll" and "71009" as "GO OIL".
- In Sam & Max: Chariots of the Dogs, Max suggests making an LCD on the security system's keypad read "BOOBIES" (5318008). This turns out to be the code they need to deactivate the system.
- 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.
- "Shakuntala Devi's 84th birthday celebrated with a doodle". Times of India. November 4, 2013.
- 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
- RotateCalc – An upside-down calculator
- Topsy-Turvy Calculator – Another 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.