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I am not often used for my original purpose.
I can save a shift.
Nowadays I'm mostly used for _________.

What am I?

Hint:

The last clue is more than just a "fill in the blank".

Hint 2:

I contain two parts, each of which is used more often than I am (when used for their original purpose).

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11 Answers 11

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You are a

semicolon

I am not often used for my original purpose.

A lot of people don't even know how it should be used...
The original purpose of semicolons is to "separate two main clauses that are closely related to each other but could stand on their own as sentences if you wanted them to." (Quote from Grammar Girl.) Compared to other more modern uses for semicolons, the original use is not very common.

I can save a shift.

Thanks to Mike Kellogg for this one: it saves a shift (to add a capital) when you join two sentences. (I'd never have got it 'cause I always used a capital after a semicolon 'til now...)

Nowadays I'm mostly used for _________.

"ending a statement." (Pun intended as mentioned in the hint.) Many programming languages use a semicolon to end a statement; one may be used in most lines of code. This is surely by far the most common use of semicolons today. (Winking probably comes in second.)

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  • $\begingroup$ @TTT Is it the right answer finally? Or this is? $\endgroup$ – nicael Jun 7 '16 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ Whoa. I am indeed a semicolon! However, there is a better reason for the last two clues. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ For the other clue, try writing an example where you use a semicolon for its original purpose. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ I suddenly wish I'd paid more attention at school. (This site do that a lot to anyone else?) $\endgroup$ – Brent Hackers Jun 7 '16 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ It saves a shift because it combines what would otherwise be two sentences into one, requiring one less capital letter. $\endgroup$ – Mike Kellogg Jun 7 '16 at 15:30
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It could be

caps lock

I can save a shift:

It does "save a shift" when active - you don't need to hold the shift to type the capital letter. Or, in a more direct meaning, if the shift button is broken, caps lock will provide you with ability to type a capital letter :)

I am not often used for my original purpose.

Nobody has probably thought that caps lock will be widely used for "shouting" over the Internet. Most possibly, it was used to write titles, since the font sizes are also newer invention.

Nowadays I'm mostly used for _________.

Underlining could imply emphasis - because caps lock IS used to emphasise (see "shouting"). Partly similar idea in another answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you explain the last hint? Because you cannot write a line of underscores with the Caps-Lock key enabled, you have to hold down the shift-key... $\endgroup$ – Falco Jun 7 '16 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Falco I posted the answer before OP mentioned that the last line is not just "fill in the blank", so I didn't consider it to be really valuable as a hint. $\endgroup$ – nicael Jun 7 '16 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Falco I've made an edit. $\endgroup$ – nicael Jun 7 '16 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ I am not a Caps Lock, but you're on the right track. Note that "save a shift" is singular. Caps Lock would likely save many shifts. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ @TTT: Not if you hold down the Shift key with one finger while typing all the capital letters - like I do. ;) $\endgroup$ – KeyboardWielder Jun 7 '16 at 18:23
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I think it's

an underscore.

I'm not often used for my original purpose:

According to Wikipedia, underscores were introduced on typewriters to underscore things. Nowadays underscores are used as their own character, whereas underscore is a character style.

I can save a shift:

According to the same Wikipedia article, the underscores were used by typing the line, then moving the carriage back to the beginning of the line or word, then typing the underscores on top of the word. Thus, they "saved a shift" to the next line in their usage. Alternatively, paraphrasing yet again from the same Wikipedia article, they were sometimes used instead of a space, thus "saving a shift" between words.

Nowadays I'm mostly used for _________.

This symbol is exactly that. It's used to make the blank in that clue. As the hint said, it's more than a "fill in the blank" - it's used to make the "fill in the blank."

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  • $\begingroup$ I am not an underscore, but so far this fits the best. I believe the answer I have in mind fits even better though. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:18
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Sounds like it's

darning.

Which is not often used for its original purpose

Darning is rarely done anymore, now that clothing is less expensive.

can save a shift

A ripped dress can be darned.

and is mostly used for ______

as a bowdlerized curse word, the spoken equivalent of eliding a "real" obscenity, replacing it with a series of underscores.

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6
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I think Nicael has the answer correct, but missed a clue and interpreted another incorrectly.

So I agree it's

caps lock

I can save a shift:

It does "save a shift" when active - you don't need to hold the shift to type the capital letter. Or, in a more direct meaning, if the shift button is broken, caps lock will provide you with ability to type a capital letter :)

I am not often used for my original purpose.

The original purpose of all caps was to communicate the entire text of what you wanted to say as clearly as possible, because lower case letters didn't exist.

Nowadays I'm mostly used for _________.

Read: "Nowadays I'm mostly used for underlining". Underlining is another way to emphasise words, which is what caps lock is used for now, NOT shouting (a small but vocal minority aside)

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  • $\begingroup$ I am not a Caps Lock, but you're on the right track. Note that "save a shift" is singular. Caps Lock would likely save many shifts. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:27
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One possible answer:

Are you an asterisk * ?

I am not often used for my original purpose

Wikipedia has a history section for the asterisk. Some of the possibilities are for denoting the time of death in a family tree or marking duplicate lines. I have never seen the asterisk used for either of those.

I can save a shift

In computing, a bitshift means you take all the binary bits of a number and move them left or right, effectively multiplying or dividing by two (sometimes 1 is used for padding instead of 0, which makes it less straightforward). If you want to bitshift a huge number of times, it becomes more efficient to multiply. Per a comment from @KeyboardWielder and a bit of research, it looks like this is true for a certain definition of true with regard to the x86 instruction set. GCC 4.4.7 switches from bitshifts to multiplication somewhere after 2^32 (~= 4*10^9). This kind of math is likely to overflow even a uint64. Other instruction sets may behave differently.

Nowadays I'm mostly used for ____

multiplication

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    $\begingroup$ I am not an asterisk, but this is an excellent answer, and you're on the right track. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 6 '16 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Sompom: AFAIK, it is always more efficient to shift than to multiply, and I believe most compilers will replace code that multiplies by powers of 2 with shift operations. $\endgroup$ – KeyboardWielder Jun 7 '16 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @KeyboardWielder - I have finally had a little time to research this problem and it appears you're right, at least for the x86 instruction set... At least, within reason! I have a c program that is just a main which does nothing and a function with header uint64_t multiply(int x) which multiplies the input parameter by an absurdly large power of 2. GCC 4.4.7 leaves the math as a single shift at least through 2^32. I finally tested multiplying by 2^63, which finally convinces GCC to use a multiply. $\endgroup$ – Sompom Jun 21 '16 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ I assume this is because, somewhere after 2^32, x86 opcodes no longer have space for such a massive immediate value. Of course, this is just one (extremely popular) instruction set. I don't have objdump set up to do anything else, so I can't test any more, but I can imagine an instruction set where bitshifts don't have room for such a large immediate value, so the point where it makes sense to switch to multiplication would be less absurd. And, of course, when one of the operands of the multiplication is a double, all bets are off. Multiplication is used from the beginning. $\endgroup$ – Sompom Jun 21 '16 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Sompom: I think this should be true of most CPUs, because a multiplication operation is usually implemented by a "shift-and-add" algorithm. $\endgroup$ – KeyboardWielder Jun 26 '16 at 15:53
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I think it's the

Number pad

Which was originally intended for

Faster data entry

And can save a shift

When you want a +

And is mostly used for

Games maybe?

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  • $\begingroup$ Good guess. Though I think one could argue that the number pad is still used for its original purpose. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah. Fair enough. That's where it's weakest. $\endgroup$ – Brent Hackers Jun 7 '16 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ I should have said "still used often for it's original purpose". $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:42
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Maybe

Underscore _

I am not often used for my original purpose.

Used to be for underlining. Now people use Ctrl-U.

I can save a shift.

Not sure..

Nowadays I'm mostly used for _________.

Sometimes used for making blanks.

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  • $\begingroup$ I am not an underscore. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:26
4
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Ok, I am posting this from a throwaway as I do not to be associated with my answer. Feel free to delete it.

Is it

Viagra

I am not often used for my original purpose.

Initially a medicine

I can save a shift.

Self explanatory

Nowadays I'm mostly used for _________.

_________ is quite flat

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  • $\begingroup$ Funny, but no, I am not Viagra. $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:23
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The single quote/apostrophe ' Originally meant as an apostrophe, now used as quotation marks.

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  • $\begingroup$ Looks like you're the winner :) And it does indeed save a shift opposed to the quotation mark. $\endgroup$ – nicael Jun 7 '16 at 14:41
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#

I am not often used for my original purpose.

This was initially used for pound or to mark a number in a list of numbers

I can save a shift.

In some programming languages you can comment code using # or //.
to get 2 slashes you have to type twice. for # only once

Nowadays I'm mostly used for _________.

annoying s**t on "social" media. #stackexchange #greatAnswer #GiveMeATick #IAmSoSmart #HaHa.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ahah, lol the last one. $\endgroup$ – nicael Jun 7 '16 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ Funny, but I am not a #. And, the # key requires adding a shift when compared to //, which is the opposite of "saves a shift". $\endgroup$ – TTT Jun 7 '16 at 14:58

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