Topic symbols

Because of how many things I write, I have also created an ancillary notation for projects themselves and how they relate to each other.

This is an organically grown notation – it was built not to satisfy a need but instead was derived from ordinary text abbreviations. In its oldest form, a single symbol denoted a language, but soon it developed into a host of notations that encode not just languages but the worlds they belong to and the settings the worlds belong to as well. Ultimately it all became a sprawling notation that indicates a large number of things across different projects, and even the projects themselves. I've never written about it in exact detail before, so let's do that here and have a record for the future.


As previously mentioned, the goal of a topic symbol is to indicate what topics a particular piece of writing is about or belongs to. These are placed on top of the page that contains the main body of the work, and these pages are literal – that is to say, made of paper and of a definite size (specifically, A4).

These pages are none other than those that I use to do my worldbuilding on, especially conlangs, so they tend to revisit the same topics a lot. At first, these topics were introduced by a phrase like "In $language-name" or "In $culture-name" as the first words in the body or thereabouts. Later, that moved into the title of the page, abbreviated to two letters. Finally, it became a single letter in a circle.

That single letter in a circle represented both a planet and the (at the time) one language the planet has, and this is alright because any ambiguity can be resolved by context. But then other languages started appearing on the same planet so the triangles came up.

What happened next is not entirely clear, but a couple of key points can be addressed:

  • The symbols started sprouting additional decorations, such as those that are used to indicate whether or not the project is even started yet or at an early stage
  • Some other symbols are used to indicate more refined parts of a topic or a subtopic, such as a dialect in a language, or a particular aspect of the world, or even a small story inside the project.
  • The projects are grouped together and given first-class status, so they would need to have topic symbols for articles that describe the various projects as a whole.
  • And the symbols are easily generalised into other projects that have a similar form, or even completely different forms, which results in a proliferation of symbols to adapt to different project divisions
  • One very important thing that topic symbols do which is particularly helpful in my own projects is that they allow projects to remain unnamed until convenient. This is helpful when one is making conlangs, where frequently the project names is just the name of the language in itself, creating a boot-strapping problem where the name cannot be created without creating the language that the name would be in itself.


    The topic symbols are used on top of the pages inside all creative notebooks to, as their name suggests, indicate the topic that the page will be about. it's placed before the title, and does not form part of it usually.

    Additionally, the topic symbols are also used as a shorthand, or sometimes a placeholder, for the topic's name in body text. In this case, the levels of the topic above the one immediately relevant may be omitted if they can be inferred by context.


    At its core, the notation for topic symbols is a combination of letters in shapes. Each shape also has a hierarchy level, meaning that it creates a namespace – the meaning of every shape-letter combination depends on all the shape-letter combinations that come before it.

    Additionally, the appearance of some shapes can exclude the appearance of other shapes, or take on different semantic meanings when combined with them. A naïve but not particularly ignorant solution to understanding the symbols might be to ignore the relationships between each symbol and just understand the entire sequence of topic symbols as a whole, with some inferences needed for "incomplete" topic symbols (i.e. those that don't specify everything from a "root shape" down). However, the relationship between the symbols are meaningful and can be exploited for a more complete understanding of where the topic stands amongst others.


    Any geometric figure that can roughly be stated as being dividing the rest of the paper to an inside and an outside can be considered to be a shape.


    Letter placement

    Status markers

    An entire topic symbol can be surrounded by brackets to specify the status of the project. Specifically:

  • A round bracket means that the project is "proposed" or "in the future". That means that it's planned to exist, but there has not been any work done on it.
  • A square bracket means that the project is "immature" or "developing". That means some work has been done on it or it otherwise has some constraints set on it but there has not been any substantive work done on it and the final form of the project remains in flux.
  • These are not necessarily part of the symbol itself and can be altered and removed without changing what the topic symbol refers to.