Re: Unicode, Cure-all or Kill-all?

From: John H. Jenkins (
Date: Tue Aug 13 1996 - 14:50:36 EDT

Thomas Nielsen wrote:

>Martin Duerst wrote:
>>Unicode distinguishes hyphen and minus (besides having a generic
>>hyphen/minus), because in certain circumstances one might indeed
>>want to distinguish them and show them differently, although these
>>circumstances are rare and the distinction is definitely a burden on
>>the general user.
>Jonathan wrote:
>>>I was under the impression that in regular handwriting or print hyphen and
>>>look quite different. Only because of the severe limitations of 6 or 7 bit
>>>computer codes were they "merged" into a novelty that looks like neither.
>>>same was done to the two English single quotes and the apostrophe.
>>>With a 16 bit code the limitations and the necessity are gone.
>The distingushing between the minus and the hyphen plus em-dash, en-dash
>is very important for the publishing and typhographic world. Nobody in Europe
>would for example accept a minus character as a hyphen, but rather use a
>or em-dash (which is different for North-America and also varies within
>the same
>Indeed Unicode solves this problem in an elegant way.

The problem, though, is that your average computer user isn't a
typographer (or a mathematician) and gets very vague about the
differences involved.

The Macintosh, for example, has had an em-dash (or is it an en-dash?) as
a part of its standard character set for the last twelve years -- and yet
most Mac users persist in using the hyphen as a dash or, if you're
particularly lucky, two hyphens.

Asking someone to make the proper distinctions between hyphen, minus,
hyphen/minus, em-dash, en-dash, and so on when all they're doing is
writing a quick letter to Aunt Sue -- it's hard.

(Not that I really disagree with you -- I think Unicode did the right
thing here. It's basically a problem of education and HI.)

John H. Jenkins

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