Re: Should furigana be considered part of "plain text"?

From: John Hudson (
Date: Sun Jul 02 2000 - 15:23:26 EDT

At 09:16 AM 7/2/00 -0800, Doug Ewell wrote:

>The problem with the phrase "plain text ceases to be plain if you decide
>that layout information needs to be encoded" is the word "layout." In
>the broadest sense, line and paragraph separation could be considered
>"layout," and nobody would suggest doing away with the plain-text
>characters needed to control those functions.

I think this is a fair comment, if one assumes so broad a sense of
'layout'. On the other hand, I wouldn't consider a paragraph break to be
necessarily 'layout', since it is primarily a textual convention that can
be represented in layout in a myriad of different ways: double spacing,
indentation, pilcrows, etc.. Now, we have interpreted a paragraph break in
a particular way in plain text code -- a hard break and a move to a new
line, i.e. the behaviour of a typewriter 'return' key -- and have further
muddied things by using this code to force layout by, for instance,
entering two paragraph breaks

to achieve this particular layout.

Personally, I think a truly plain text paragraph break would have no
particular layout behaviour associated with it; rather, it would indicate a
textual break that would be interpreted by applications according to user
defined layout preferences. In e-mail, it is handy to have paragraphs
separated by a 'double return', especially when several correspondents are
being quoted, but elsewhere I would prefer indented, single-spaced
paragraphs. Since it is the same textual break that is being indicated, I
don't think these two layout options should be differently encoded. I think
equating a digital paragraph break with the return key on a manual
typewriter is actually a failure to encode plain text.

That said, I realise that this might be an extremist view, and I certainly
don't expect anybody to change anything now. Although I have to add, as
someone who has typeset books, that having to remove all the double returns
in a document before I can properly control the paragraph breaks is almost
as annoying as replacing multiple tabs or word spaces when these have been
used to force layout in 'plain text'. Thank goodness for macros.

John Hudson

Tiro Typeworks
Vancouver, BC

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