re: little lines below

From: Alain LaBont\i\ (
Date: Tue Oct 13 1998 - 14:44:41 EDT

At 09:56 98-10-13 -0700, Michael Everson wrote:
>I don't follow the logic. The raised circle is a LETTER O. It's an
>abbreviation for "numéro". Why should it be drawn, in a Times font, with a
>perfectly round degree sign, and not with a small LETTER O? C'est illogique.

[Alain] :
For common of mortals, a round sign is the letter o as well as the degree
sign. This is logical, how could it be otherwise?

The degree sign has been used as a subscripted o the firts day it was
available on typewriters, so it is enough to create a tradtition, andd the
tradition is now ubiquitous on both sides of the Atlantic, and more
generally in the 49 countries/states of the Francophonie.

>>If one wants to say N DEGREES, in French, like in English, one will
>>explicitly writes so, not write "n°"

[Michael] :
>That's not true. Isn't "n" used as an algebraic indefinite number in
>French? We talk in English about "the nth degree" ('à la puissance n', 'la
>énième fois'), but if it was just incredibly cold we might say "it was n°
>below zero".

[Alain] :
The "nth" of "nth dregree" is not composed of 2 words, it is one word, so
no space.
"N ° below zero" should be written with a space (as, for example, in 1,25 $
[the French way to write $1.25, with a space, or 98 %, with a space also,
unlike in English perhaps].

>>(btw in French, when we want to write
>>two words, we write a space in between, i.e. "n °" could, very
>>hypothetically, mean EN DEGREES).

[Michael] :
>In ordinary temperatures, however, you don't write a space, just e.g. 39°.
>So you might be able to say that "il avait n° au-dessous de zéro"?

[Alain] :
Yes we do write a space in correct typography.

>>"N°" or "n°" is definitely used only to indicate "numéro" in French. But if
>>one wants to use a red light in the dark to understand something else in
>>limited and absolutely out-of-this-world conditions, this situation is
>>always theoretically possible, and part of the [sci-]fiction domain (;
>My point was that, given the nature of the abbreviation, I don't see why n°
>or N° (with a degree sign) should be considered superior to nº or Nº (with
>the ordinal indicator).

[Alain] :
I never said it was superior. It is more modern, more current usage. Old
fashion never meant inferior in my mind (I almost wrote "on the contrary",
but I refrained to say it (; ).

Even for abbreviations, the past has accustomed us to underlined
superscripts. When I was young, the bus company in the suburbs of the city
of Québec where I was living wrote its name as

C-- d'autobus de Charlesbourg

(Compagnie d'autobus de Charlesbourg)

and the local grocery store was identified as

           res ie tée
Mercier & F--- C-- L---

(Mercier et Frères, [Compagnie] Limitée)

This is today completely outdated, although the rules of correct
abbreviation still exist.

Nowadays we tend to abbreviate with a point after a series of firts
contiguous letters rather than with the last letters of a word underlined
and superscripted (at the limit we abbreviate with the last letters of the
words without a point, without superscripts no underlining -- as in "Mme",
for "Madame", or "Sté" for "Société", or "1er" for "premier", "1ère" for
"première", "2e" for "deuxième", "2nd" for "second", and so on and so forth).

[Michael] :
>Assuming of course that you are limited to Latin 1. I notice in _Les
>caractères de l'Imprimerie Nationale_ that a superscript o, not a degree
>sign, is used to indicate "numéro".

[Alain] :
You mean N , not o alone, of course.

That is of course correct. Except that the common of mortals don't do this
in email, for example, it is much simpler to write N°... And it was already
like this 2 decades ago on typewriters.

[Michael] :
>But in _Lexique des règles typographiques_ it also says "Il convient de
>rappeler que 1º, 2º, 3º ... sont les abbréviations de primo, secundo,
>tertio..., le signe supérieur étant un o et non un zéro". Surely the same
>applies to numéro?

[Alain] :
The distinction between 0 and o is of course very important and even
visually distinguishable in most fonts. That said, what they say does not
contradict what I wrote at all.

1°, 2°, 3°, 4°, n°, primo, secundo, tertio, quarto, numéro, without space
-- it is all one word (a superscript o or a degree sign are indifferently
used by people).

Alain LaBonté

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