RE: Roman numerals

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Sun Nov 25 2007 - 10:17:59 CST

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    James Kass wrote:
    > Envoyé : dimanche 25 novembre 2007 15:34
    > À :
    > Objet : Re: Roman numerals
    > Roman numerals originated from Etruscan symbols. There's an
    > interesting Wikipedia article about it at:
    > Jukka K. Korpela has politely and patiently explained the situation
    > concerning Roman numerals.
    > Some people make distinctions between Roman numerals and
    > Latin uppercase letters, and I'm one of them.
    > I was taught, way back in elementary school, to write Roman
    > numerals with connecting bars above and below. Those bars
    > distinguish the numerals from letters.

    I was told this too. And anyway, even if you can't use such connecting font,
    at least a document should present them using letter glyphs with serifs.

    Anyway, I don't like using the Unicode-encoded characters, even in that
    case, notably on the web, because their glyphs, when supported, are often
    very poor. It's still best to use a stylesheet, and marking Roman numerals
    with a class="Roman", so that the stylesheet selects a serifed font.

    There are additional presentation constraints: normally, the Roman numerals
    should use small capitals (for French typography, this generally applies for
    all cases where the roman number is a quantity numeral, or follows a name to
    qualify it as an ordinal such as names of kings/queens/popes/cardinals, or
    to denote the century ordinals, but the chapter numbers or volume numbers,
    or millennium ordinal numbers should use normal capitals). There are several
    typographical conventions about this, so this is not always enforced.

    For this, you can use the stylesheet too, if there's no guaranteed support
    for small capitals: reducing the font size to about 87% is generally
    acceptable for presenting these roman numerals.

    Note that this font size reduction should not be done for Roman numerals
    written with small letters (there are distinctions between large capital
    Roman numbers, small capital numbers and lowercased Roman numbers), such as
    the numbering of "alineas" (enumerated paragraphs within a structured
    chapter such as legal texts in laws or contractual or licence documents) or
    list items, where normal small letters should be used (but still with a
    serif style font).

    A monospaced font should not be used as well, so that the serifs are kept
    connecting with I letters. (Monospace style is normally not used for texts,
    only for input or sources, but source files generally don't need
    presentation or layout constraints)

    Only if you are creating plain-text documents where no upper-level protocol
    allows specifying style, may the Roman digits be useful. If you have any
    other solution, it's best to avoid the encoded Latin numbers, because they
    lack features like the necessary distinctions between the three letter cases
    (capitals, small capitals, lowercase).

    Connecting the letters was possibly preferred, but now this requirement is
    deprecated, if you use consistant style such as a serif and non monospaced
    font and small small capitals for a document rendered in a sans-serif font
    (that many users feel easier to read, especially on screen with small
    resolutions where serifs are much too bold and often undesirable there). In
    addition, connecting the "M" letters (for thousands) makes them strange to

    Connection is usable only for small numbers between 1 ("I") and 39 ("XXXIX")
    only (or 38 only if you write 39 as "IXL"), such as the ordinals of king
    names, using only the "I", "V" and "X" roman digits (after that, you need a
    "L" for 50, "C" for 100, "D" or "turned C" or "I+turned C" for 500, "M" or
    "C+I+turned C" for 1000, and these lower and upper connecting strokes make
    the number mostly unreadable).

    So for noting contemporary years (starting at the XI-th century) as Roman
    numerals, you will not use these connection strokes. And consistently,
    century numerals should not use these connections as well.

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