Those entrusted with supervising the Internet have in recent times made explicit efforts to keep it from being an exclusively Western/English/Latin alphabet phenomenon, resulting earlier this year in the acceptance of Cyrillic (e.g. Russian) and even Arabic words as Internet addresses, or URLs. Now the Süddeutsche Zeitung informs us (The “ß” becomes even sharper) that German has achieved its own mini-triumph for Internet inclusiveness: from 16 November a new character to be allowed in URLs will be the “ß” or “Eszett,” an historical letter in the German language that traditionally has denoted a double-s.
Ah, but note that “traditionally,” that “historical”: nowadays the ß is actually not used so much, ever since the spelling-reform agreed to in 1996 (implemented over the following ten years) that sharply restricted its approved cases for use. In olden days you would be sure to see it all the time when reading German if only for daß, which is the German “that” or “which,” i.e. the subordinate-clause conjunction (e.g. “I would have to conclude that . . .”), but all that you see anymore these days is of course dass instead. Often you don’t see it in Straße, or “street,” even when used as part of a street-name; and, indeed, in this same article announcing that one can use it in URLs the letter in question is barely used it all unless in direct reference to the “ß” itself: otherwise I find only a heißt and a ließe, and then a größten in the caption to the (rather irrelevant) accompanying illustration.
Well OK, I also found it somewhere else: in the “www.scheißhoppenheim.de” sort of URL which the piece’s author, Hermann Unterstöger, facetiously suggests it will now be possible to register. That word-construction is based upon Scheiße – a word proudly featuring its very-own “ß” but otherwise not very nice or polite; I assume its similarity to the corresponding English profanity allows me to decline giving you its meaning outright. But you have to wonder about the many other things German delegates to ICANN (in charge of internet addresses and protocol generally) should be addressing themselves to, instead of this barely-useful development which seems to offer scope to the flowering of the creative talents only of German dirty-words specialists.