Re: Character classification and casing and locales

From: Michael Everson (
Date: Tue Dec 03 1996 - 11:22:42 EST

A while ago Rick McGowan wrote...
>A while ago Michael Everson wrote...
>> in all caps and a large SHARP S had been designed in the type face to
>> harmonize with all the other capital letters. In other words, a CAPITAL
>> SHARP S exists already in the real world anyway. Adding this character
>Wait a minute... OK, so let's say that some fonts have this thing. How does
>it differ from any other fancy ligature that happens to be designed into some
>font? E.g., check out the Tiro Typeworks "AENEAS" typeface at
> for a great example of upper-case ligatures.

Um. I looked at their "great example" of upper-case ligatures and found
only one, an LA ligature. Or was it an IA ligature? It was cute, but by no
means "some fancy ligature that happens to be designed into some font". It
was a means to solve a particular problem of German typography. (The other
characters on the page you mentioned were the LETTER AE and the LIGATURE
OE, which are well-known characters. The little E instead of two dots
inside the U WITH DIAERESIS was nice, and was historically accurate.)

Here's the deal, Rick. Traditionally it is incorrect to have a sharp-s
ligature in the middle of a word in all capitals. MAßSTAB was incorrect,
traditionally, you were supposed to write MASSSTAB. But in this day and age
of computer typography, when autocapitalization was applied, the sharp-s
was unaffected and so people got used to seeing MAßSTAB. It happens a lot.
A lot of editors didn't, and don't have time or interest to bother to rekey
the ß into SS, and then there's the problem of rekeying it back if you
change your mind. So a new typographical habit was formed. You can see
MAßSTAB quite frequently in German some publications.

Now, what this has done is intrigue some typographers. They have actually
designed upper case sharp-s ligatures, so that the thing looks better. Is
this good or bad? Perhaps it is not for us to say, but what we could do, if
we wanted to actually solve a problem, is to create a character for this
and let people use it. Monowidth typographers could squish two SS glyphs
into it. Capital sharp-s enthusiasts would have a character to put their
designs, and ordinary typographers could just put two SS glyphs there.

>I don't think that decreeing the existence of an upper-case sharp-s will
>anything; it'll only add to the confusion.

How on earth could it *add* to the confusion, Rick? Unicode has canonical
mapping tables for casing. You'd map SMALL SHARP S to CAPITAL SHARP S and
that would be that. Typographers would do one of the three things I
mentioned above. Autocapitalization operations would become transparent and
error-free. Post processing in typesetting would be simpler.

It seems clear that this is a case where coding could solve, simply, a
problem which otherwise could be solved with expensive or unworkable
programming tricks (hey, does your app support German pre-Duden 1996 or
post-?). Personally, I favour coding. The only reason not to choose such a
simple solution -- which fits the capital sharp-s facts of the real world
-- might be an overslavish attachment to the great Character Glyph Model.
Which in this case, doesn't help.

Best regards,

Michael Everson, Everson Gunn Teoranta
15 Port Chaeimhghein Íochtarach; Baile Átha Cliath 2; Éire (Ireland)
Gutháin:  +353 1 478-2597, +353 1 283-9396
27 Páirc an Fhéithlinn; Baile an Bhóthair; Co. Átha Cliath; Éire

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