Re: Exemplifying apostrophes

From: John Hudson (
Date: Thu May 22 2008 - 17:04:27 CDT

  • Next message: David Starner: "Re: Exemplifying apostrophes"

    Asmus wrote:

    > It may not technically change the meaning, but if you consider
    > robustness of text interchange, you also need to consider how acceptable
    > a fallback is to the average reader. I cannot gauge this reliably for
    > this issue, but from what I read it seems that this is at least a
    > borderline case, in the sense that from what people write, too much
    > space (a full space) is a better fallback than none. If that's the case,
    > then letting the user key in the encoding for the fallback presentation
    > would be advantageous.

    Is that what people 'write' (input) though? French emails cross my
    screen from time to time, and I've never seen care taken in them to put
    extra space before semicolons or colons etc. I strongly suspect that
    most French people using typewriters did not insert spaces before
    punctuation. And what percentage of French websites attempt to replicate
    this feature of French typography?

    This is a *typographic* convention that originates in the French
    printing and publishing tradition. And it is worth preserving as long as
    French typographers and readers consider it important. But whether
    handled via an encoded space or through some other mechanism at the
    display level, this is ultimately about document layout and
    presentation, as conducted by professional typographers who know and
    understand the rules (including, crucially, understanding how large the
    space should be). In this context, I don't think the notion of
    'acceptable fallback' is very relevant, because typography is all about
    control, which is why professional page layout applications differ from
    word processing tools: they provide a greater level of control in the
    formatting and presentation of text.

    Adam wrote:

    > John likes to quote Borges and his famous
    > "animal classification"*. In fact, the classification of writing marks
    > as "characters" vs. "glyphs" is just a splendid example of that very
    > problem.

    Borges identifies the essentially arbitrary nature of classification,
    but that's not to say that classification is useless. The distinction
    between characters and glyphs is a functional one that follows a much
    broader distinction between content and presentation that experience has
    shown to be very useful in electronic document creation. I agree that
    the boundary between text and typography, as between other kinds of
    content and formatting, is not a completely clean one, but that doesn't
    render the basic distinction useless, nor does it suggest that we
    shouldn't try to maintain the distinction when looking at these kinds of

    Philippe raised an issue specifically about the French UDHR documents as
    provided at <>. Now I would say that all
    these documents, whether plain text, XML, HTML or PDF are
    typographically unformatted or, to put it another way, they are awaiting
    typography. The XML and HTML obviously have some structural formatting,
    which may be interpreted for presentation formatting, e.g. with bold
    type for subheads, but none of these documents are what I would consider
    typographically formatted. So I wonder to what degree it is sensible to
    complain about the absence of space before certain punctuation marks,
    since I would consider the implementation of such spaces to be the
    proper job of the typographer, regardless of the mechanism to be used.

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Gulf Islands, BC
    Nobody can possibly know the reach of language, whether
    liturgical or otherwise, so one should just keep going
    until one is too exhausted to go any further.
                       - Catherine Pickstock

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