Re: Is the "Subject" field of an e-mail an obvious example of "plain text" where no higher level protocol application is possible?

From: Asmus Freytag <>
Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2012 10:19:35 -0700

On 7/20/2012 8:41 AM, Karl Pentzlin wrote:
> Looking for an example of "plain text" which is obvious to anybody,
> it seems to me that the "Subject" field of e-mails is a good example.

By common convention, certain notational features have been relegated to
styled text. Super and subscript in mathematical, chemical and other
notation belongs to that class.

There have been occasional calls to add certain explicit characters, but
they have been either rejected or met with such chilly response on
preliminary inquiry that no formal submission was ever made.

Subscript and superscript are essential features of such a notation, but
most people can "live with" not having access to the full notation in
the subject line. (No mathematician expects to be able to place a fully
built-up equation there, even if his software supports plain text math,
as defined in UTN#28).

A much stronger case than subject lines are regulatory databases with
plain-text fields in their records. A German company had approached
Unicode with the problem that even the in-line formulas for chemical
compounds needed a few subscript character beyond digits, in particular
the Greek letters alpha, beta and gamma (not the whole alphabet).

That request died before being taken up by the committee.

I have no idea how that industry solved their problem, after all, the
regulatory mandate didn't disappear. However, as it stands, the de-facto
precedent is to not accommodate such usage by coding characters. The
situation with DIN EN 13501 seems to be entirely equivalent, in fact I
find it less likely that a subject line, to be intelligible and specific
would require the particular character in question than the letters
needed to be able to write a full chemical formula (in the style of
C₂H₆O). People just make do, writing C2H6O etc. (check "chemical formula
of alcohol" on google, to see what I mean). [Some organic compounds also
use Greek letters, I don't have an example, not being a chemist.]

If the users for which such "near plain text" notations are part of
their daily work were to report that subject lines, database "plain
text" fields and other such bottlenecks are causing serious issues, then
I think Unicode and WG2 should listen carefully. However, this should be
something that's broadly anchored in those user communities. Let them
demonstrate that there's a real practical need that outweighs the dual
representation issue.

Received on Fri Jul 20 2012 - 12:23:01 CDT

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