super- and subscripted characters

From: Benjamin Rossen (
Date: Fri Mar 19 2010 - 20:15:00 CST

  • Next message: Jukka K. Korpela: "Re: super- and subscripted characters"

    A small number of characters are included in the UNICODE standard as superscripted and subscripted characters, most of them in the 2070 - 209F block. The current policy is to regard these characters as duplications of their standard characters. User wishing to display superscripted and subscripted characters are expected to use formatting tools to achieve this. There are no plans to put more superscripted and subscripted characters into the UNICODE standard.

    There is at least one good reason for providing an enlarged set of unicode superscripted and subscripted characters. Formatting tools are not always available, and in some cases when they are available the tools require the deployment of APIs and editing tools that may be less than optimal.

    The follow example illustrates this. I am making calculators as desktop applications that will also be deployed as applets on webpages, coded in Java. The most efficient way to place characters on the buttons is by using unedited strings, passed as parameters to the constructors at time of instantiating the buttons. These strings can include escape characters followed by UNICODE numbers, as shown in the object declarations, below:

        private JButton jbtnB3 = new JButton("\u00B2\u221A");
        private JButton jbtnC3 = new JButton("\u00B3\u221A");
        private JButton jbtnD3 = new JButton("\u207F\u221A");

    The superscripted x is not available in UNICODE, and would be preferable to the superscripted n, which I have used in its place.

    Introduction of string editing tools, which would be needed to superscript an x or any other character, would mean deploying a bloated package, not only because of the need to import string editing APIs but also because of the indirection that would be required to code the editing. In some situations these tools may not be available. The added complexity increases the probability that the software will misbehave on some platforms.

    Another alternative is to use graphic icons. This is not good practice for several reasons. For example, it prevents or greatly complicates GUI scaling, needed to make enlarged displays for sight impaired users, a factor that would discourage some programmers and web designers from meeting accessibility standards. Use of graphics elements also leads to bloated packages and bandwidth hungry web pages.

    I plead for the inclusion of the full lower case Latin alphabet, and Greek symbols commonly used in Mathematics as superscripted and subscripted characters.

    I have not made a submission yet, as I am interested to know what other think.

    Benjamin Rossen

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