Re: How to encode abbreviations [Was: Representative glyphs for combining kannada signs]

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Wed Mar 29 2006 - 15:08:52 CST

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    From: "Keutgen, Walter" <>
    > Philippe,
    > your remark is similar to Antoine Leca's of 2006.03.28 10:12 GMT
    >>One of my prefered is the French use of ° to mark
    >>the abbreviation of a final o (as in 1º, 2º), and the Spanish use of º to

    It is not: the degree after the number above does not designate a o letter. It is merely away to use a superscript instead of the actual ones. The actual superscripts used would be:

    "1<sup>er</sup>" (for singular masculine), "1<sup>ère</sup>" (or "1<sup>re</sup>", for singular feminine), and their plurals, instead of "1°" that any french would interpret as "one degree", but not as not the adjective "premier" or "première" (=first), or the adverb "premièrement" (=at first).

    "2<sup>nd</sup>" or "2<sup>nde</sup>", "2<sup>ème</sup>" or , "2<sup>ème</sup>" (or "1<sup>re</sup>"), and their plurals, instead of "2°" that any french would interpret as "two degrees", but not as the adjective "deuxième" or masculine adjective "second" or feminine adjective "seconde" (=second) or the adverb "deuxièmement" (=secondly).

    The important thing to note is that these abbreviations usingfinalletters in superscript have the regular desinences marked in the superscript. They are really made of the SAME letters used in the unabbreviate word, and so have the same desinences for feminine and plural. That's a good reason to not disunify the superscripts from their normal base letters: how would you produce the feminine (superscript e) or plural (superscript s) ????

    In fact it is not just a matter of style. The actual superscripted abbreviations are denoting something missing for the semantic: the fact that it is anabbreviation. So "Mme" is not clear about the fact that it abbreviates "Madame". It is however accepted in French without any additional sign or style, because French has very strong orthographic rules for abbreviations (for example, "Monseigneur" is abbreviated "Mgr", "Messeigneurs" is abbreviated "M.S.S.", "Monsieur is abbreviated "M.", not "Mr", and "Messieurs" is abbreviated "MM."), including strict rules for the capitals, and the position of abbreviation dots.

    The upperscript is another way to make the abbreviation even more explicit, but without adding an incorrect dot. The superscript does not violate this rule because it is a matter of style. But it exhibits that this is really an abbreviation, so the upperscript denotes an invisible abbreviation dot : "M<sup>me</sup>" merely represents "", but without marking the dot forbidden there. Orthographically the exact letters and case are important, and any attempt to disunify these letters will cause interpretation problems.

    So if something must be encoded in the plain text, it can only be a formatting control, something ignorable in collations, but added around the regular and normative letters and dots.The dots and letters in French abbreviations are immutable (very important for legal abbreviations used as trademarks, or to designate peoples precisely in contracts and letters).

    This rule translates to abbreviations used in other domains (so "ditto" is normally abbreviated by"d<sup>o</sup>",with a normal small o letter, but not with the degree sign, in accurate typography, due to the orthographic rules). However this abbreviated word is less important, and typically found in cells of numeric tables, or in very condensed articles such as in multiple lemmas for the same entry in a very rich dictionnary or encyclopaedia, or in a tourism guide. This word is avoided in legal contracts as it's too much ambiguous about its range of impact, so it would not be abbreviated there. This explains when strict typography is less observed for this.

    Anyway, the degree sign is often too little and too far from the baseline for denoting the superscript small latin letter o used in anabbreviation, because the degree sign normally aligns at the top of M-height digits.

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