Bas Jacobs of the European type foundry Underware wrote to Shady Characters with a question: what is this character? It is used to mark correct exam answers in the same way as a tick or check mark, but beyond that its name or derivation is not clear. Bas is no stranger to unusual symbols, being the creator of Underware’s lightning-bolt irony mark, but both he and I are stumped. Here are his thoughts thus far:
The approval curl was first used in the 19th century. With a growing bureaucracy, higher governments were approving documents for lower governments using this curl to notify that a document had been read. During the last decades the curl is mostly used in education, when teachers approve their students work. This happens from primary schools up to universities.
The geographic usage is very scattered. The curl is used on a daily basis in Holland, as well as Portugal, but in Belgium or France the sign is unknown. Probably there are more countries where the curl is being used, I would be curious to know which ones.
Historians don’t agree on its genesis. Most Dutch historians think the approval curl is a speedily written ‘G’ (from Goed or Gezien), while the Portuguese think it stands for a ‘C’ (from Correcto). But a look at the stroke of the pen tells me that both explanations are not very likely.
There’s hardly any documentation in old dictionaries or historical books on the genesis and history of the approval curl, probably because it’s a very practical character. It’s used without too much awareness and there is no extra symbolic value attached to it.
The approval curl doesn’t have a Unicode, which is very strange. Its usage can be compared to a ‘check mark’, with this difference that a check mark can also mean that something has just been seen, while the curl always means that something is approved. It currently even’t doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, just nothing.
For me, the only thing that rings a bell is the Japanese marujirushi, or “O mark”, where a circle is used instead of a check or tick. I can imagine that a hastily-drawn circle could morph into the “approval curl”, but that’s only speculation. What do you think? Can any Shady Characters readers shed some light on this mark?
Update: Bas has pointed out another image of the “approval curl”, this time from the 1970s.
Update: Thanks for all your responses! There have been suggestions that the “approval curl” is a Norwegian or German ‘r’ for rett or richtig; that it’s a sloppily-drawn ‘X’, with a corresponding obelus (÷) or zero (0) symbol for ‘incorrect’; and that it’s a German or Dutch shorthand symbol. It seems to me that there’s an academic study of marking symbols just waiting to be undertaken!