Re: Historic versus modern ASCII quotes

From: Markus Kuhn (
Date: Fri Feb 25 2000 - 05:39:21 EST

Alex Bochannek wrote on 2000-02-25 08:44 UTC:
> I find you Web page regarding the use of quotation marks very
> interesting, but found it to be somewhat anglo-centric. I recently
> felt compelled to research the proper use of quotation marks in
> English and German and came up with the following results. I apologize
> if this has been discussed before.

Yes, being German myself, I am well aware of this. The point of

is mostly that I want to stop English ASCII users from writing `quote',
which has become rather commonplace among TeX/troff users also outside
of TeX/troff input files, and which is also common practice in GNU
software, but which looks ugly with fonts that follow the ISO 8859 or
Unicode standards (e.g., all TrueType fonts). This specific problem
shows mostly up almost exclusively in English ASCII text at the moment,
which is why the above web page doesn't mention the quotation mark
conventions associated with other languages. See also Michael Everson's

You will find on

examples of proper HTML use of both English and German quotation marks.
This web page allows you to test, whether your web browser is fit to
handle at least the CP1252 repertoire of Unicode reasonably well. The
results with Netscape 4.7 are somewhat disappointing. Internet Explorer
gets it perfectly right, even all WGL4 characters are supported, as can
be seen on

Also lynx turns out to come with a very comprehensive Unicode->ASCII
transliteration table.

Unfortunately, the widely-used Unicode->ASCII transliteration tables in
some Web browsers cause the last two lines of the CP1252 page to be
displayed on ASCII output devices as:

     * English convention: `single quotes' and "double quotes"
     * German convention: ,single quotes` and ,,double quotes"

which looks rather ugly and most fonts.

The correct ASCII transliteration of the CP1252 quotation marks would no
doubt be:

     * English convention: 'single quotes' and "double quotes"
     * German convention: 'single quotes' and "double quotes"

This is also what Germans would type on typewriters (no commas for low
quotation marks, which are only used in handwriting and high-quality
typography, but not with ASCII or typewriters).

> In the context of your Web page, I think it is interesting to note
> that I have seen German ASCII text before which used a repeated comma
> to mimic the low "99".

This would be widely considered to be bad or at least unusual practice.

> I am curious to find out who uses the reversed high "9", "99", and
> prime marks that are listed in the General Punctuation block.

That is what ASCII's grave accent/back quote on 0x60 used to look like
on many US-manufactured devices before ISO 8859 came out and declared
0x60 to be the spacing grave accent and not the backquote.


Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
Email: mkuhn at,  WWW: <>

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