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What Are Those Unknown Characters in My Blog Comments?

Little squares, boxes, lines, and funky symbols are often found in blog comments. A friend new to blogging called me about these wanting to know if her blog had been hacked or her computer had a virus. “It looks like alien writing from Star Trek!”

Strange characters and symbols in a blog comment

Those strange symbols and characters in your blog comments are foreign language letters that your browser cannot interpret. It doesn’t recognize the language. It is not a problem with WordPress or whatever blogging program you are using. Your browser isn’t translating the characters into their appropriate letters.

Think of it this way. Your web browser comes with a default language. In my case, FireFox comes with English built-in. It recognizes English letters and displays them on the screen for me to read. Because English is one of the romantic languages, using letters similar to French, Italian, Spanish, German and other similar languages, those languages are readable from within my browser.

To add more languages, which would convert those funky characters and symbols into something readable, you must install the different language character sets, called character encoding or HTML character entities, for those languages.

  • In FireFox, you can add languages via Tools > Options > Content > Languages.
  • In Internet Explorer, look under Tools > General > Appearance > Languages.
  • In Opera, look under Tools > Preferences > General > Details.
  • In Safari, through Apple Menu > System Preferences > International.

Should You Add More Foreign Languages?

Do you really want to add foreign languages you cannot read to your computer or web browser? While most modern computers can handle extra loads on the memory, older computers can’t. Why add language character sets if you can’t read them?

You can translate them using Google Translate or another online machine translation program to figure out what they said, but these are limited to only a few languages and may not include Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Arabic, and other language characters. Online machine translations for many of these languages are still in development for free access.

You can delete the comments, though those who have those languages enabled in their browsers will be able to read the comments, so I recommend you leave them – unless you are sure they are comment spam. Comment spammers use foreign languages to fool you into thinking these are legitimate comments. The URL that accompanies the blog comment, if one is present, usually gives you a clue as to whether or not the comment is spam. If it is, mark it as spam. If in doubt, delete it. Otherwise, leave it.

No, your blog comments have not been hacked and your computer probably does not have a virus. And no, these aren’t languages from Star Trek. They are just a machine interpretation limitation. Maybe someday we won’t have to add languages to our computer or browser in order to see their character sets. Maybe someday, instantaneous translations will be built into our browsers so we will be able to read any blog in any language in our own language, opening the world up to new life, new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, the author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.


  1. Posted June 18, 2008 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    In Firefox and Flock, it is in
    Tools > Options > Content > Fonts & Color
    Change encoding is available in
    View > Character Encoding

    In IE 6
    Tools > Internet Options > Languages
    In IE 7
    Tools > Internet Options > Appearance > Languages
    To change encoding:
    View > Encoding

    I’m able to view this encoding without installing any language, which is Chinese Simplified (what I encounter most)

  2. Jeremy
    Posted June 18, 2008 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Lorelle, I think you’ll a little confused on this issue. You don’t really need to “install” other languages and they don’t use extra memory. It’s just encoding and can be changed from View>Encoding. Unicode for instance should do fairly well at displaying other languages.

  3. Posted June 18, 2008 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    @ Jeremy:

    In the past when I’ve added/installed (depends upon the process and operating system) languages, some do consume a bit of RAM, though negligiable on modern computers. Yes, it is just “encoding” but if the person wants to write in that language as well as read, it is a little more complex.

  4. Posted June 18, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    As a side note: In some cases the weird symbols ARE on the server and are not a browser language issue. This is mostly true in cases where you have a very old site and used a non UTF-8 encoding for your database (such as the default Swedish language used by MySQL if you don’t assign it another type). In those cases you can end up with some funny symbols due to the language type of your database not correctly serving up characters from a different language. This typically happens when you reload a database from a backup and the language types conflict between the backup file and the server language setting.

    You can also induce some weird characters on the server if you cut and paste from a Word document that has “Smart Quotes” turned on, since those characters do not have a proper encoding within the language standard and end up looking like little black boxes when displayed on your site.

  5. Posted June 18, 2008 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    @ harknell:

    Yes, those are more reasons. The strange characters you are seeing in the image I’ve included in the article are from this blog, on the hottest and most up-to-date servers in the world by Layered Technologies. 😀 It’s my browser not converting the character set. Once I have those languages in my browser, they will convert.

  6. Posted June 18, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Great. Now spammers are spamming us in Klingon! 😉

    Hello Lorelle. Been reading your blog lately. Thanks for all the great info!

  7. Posted June 18, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    @ John Hoff – eVentureBiz:

    Excuse me, it’s Talaxian. 😛 Don’t you recognize it when you see it!

    Thanks, John!

  8. Posted October 22, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    This is an important point, for many leftists who rally to the cause of non-violent, pro-democracy, movement building, are professedly motivated by pro-democratic sentiments. ,

  9. Posted March 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I had this exact problem, i talk about it in my blog here:

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