Re: Commercial minus as italic variant of division sign in German and Scandinavian context

From: Asmus Freytag <>
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2014 09:19:02 -0800

On 1/16/2014 8:12 AM, Leif Halvard Silli wrote:
> Asmus Freytag, Thu, 16 Jan 2014 07:24:45 -0800:
>> On 1/16/2014 5:34 AM, Leif Halvard Silli wrote:
>>> when looking at my message in Firefox [1], the commercial minus
>>> looks like a “handwritten” variant of the division sign.
>> the fact that the "slant" is reverse, rather than forward,
>> is contrary to the way oblique or italic fonts usually work.
>> So, again, I find your suggestion of "italic variant" not helpful.
> Got it. ;-) Will stop using "italic" about it!
OK. I'll hold you to it.
> Meanwhile, I think there
> *is* something to say about the slant, the slant does seem to be
> primarily linked to *style*.

Style in Unicode is used on two ways.

A) to indicate that a distinction is glyphic and can be ignored
B) to indicate that a glyph shape relates to a typographical style

A is wrong for 00F7 vs 2012 vs 2052. The distinctions are deliberate
and authors (and readers) would take exception if you substituted
another "style" of symbol. The fact is that these are not simply
accidental but correct disunifications.

In a sense, it's no different from "z" being used for the soft-s in
English (if not exclusively), "s" being used for both soft and hard
s in German and never being used for soft-s in Scandinavia.

When Unicode says it encodes the "semantics" of a character,
it doesn't mean that these semantics can't be context sensitive
or that different contexts can't call for different characters for
the same semantics. (In the minus case we are talking mathematical
semantics, while in the letter case we are talking phonetics, but
otherwise there's not a whole lot of distinction in the context
sensitive nature of character use).

The most useful concept (I have found) in these kinds of investigations
is "character identity". Here it is clear that something like 00F7
that can mean both division and minus (based on context) has
a different identity from 2012 or 2052 that (in math use) can only
mean minus. And 2052 is different from 2012 in that it is limited
to certain contexts, and 2012 cannot be used in marking papers.

So, just acknowledge that, and if you feel the need to add value,
do so by better descriptions of which context which character is
used in.

B is relevant for math alphabets, because the glyphs really are
constrained to match a typographical style. It's not relevant to
the case here, because 2052 is not a specific "style" of the
"same thing in another font".
> Just now, at, I found some
> vector icons which are simply labelled as minus icons, and which both
> of them are shaped like the DIVISION SIGN, and which occurs side by
> side with a plus sign. The labels for the icons are simply “Icon -
> minus - schwarz weiß“ and ”Icon - minus - hellblau”. See:
> <>
> You find it in Google if you search for ”kaufmännische Minuszeichen”.
> Take that as a hint.

This could be for two reasons.

A) there is some use where 00F7 has the semantics of minus.
B) the icon is misnamed in the source because of the visual similarity
with a minus

Unfortunately, by itself, you can't use that source to distinguish A from B.

>>> Anyway, when I spoke if 2052 as an italic version of 00F7, I meant in
>>> the, kind of, “mathematical” sense: […]
>> Where the case for 00F7 and 2052 differs from the mathematical alphabets is
>> that in the latter case the shape variants are (to a very large
>> extent) accurately described by the typographical moniker. A bold is a bold.
>> The only exception that I can think of is in the realm of "script",
>> where some authors prefer a slightly different style that isn't tied
>> to 18th century copperplate.
> And by script you mean "handwriting style". That makes sense. That is
> how I perceive the German, commercial minus.
It may be derived from a handwritten mark - most accounting wasn't
typeset - but
the exception that I was referring to are Knuth's "Euler" fonts which he
uses instead
of "script" in his mathematical works. Their ductus retains just faint
traces of handwriting,
and none of the elaborate styles of handwriting that typical "script"
fonts are based
on, but they serve their purpose in mathematics (unless you are a
purist) because they
are distinct from all the other styles and arguably a bit more readable.

Your applying my comment to 2052 is taking it wildly out of context.
>> Suggest better text for the book chapter that details the precise
>> places that have been established as using 00F7 in the capacity
>> of "minus sign". That would be more helpful than trying to somehow
>> treat 00F7 and 2052 as glyphic variants of each other. They are
>> separate characters, with distinct usage conventions that simply
>> happen to employ both a line and two dots. (The fallback of ./. for
>> 2052 is interesting in this context).
> Ok. Will try. Though I think better text would tie them, rather than
> separate them. But I think you are artificially separating them.
I am arguing that they have a distinct "identity".

That doesn't mean that their usage can't overlap. (That's what you tend
to think
of as "ties".) I think it less helpful to consider the characters "tied"
than to describe
the usage.

>> I was focused only at the minority use of 00F7 as a minus sign, in
>> which case
>> it and 2052 AND 002D and 2012 all function as variants of each other (but
>> not as glyphic variants --- they are spelling variants).
> Good point. It is like the V and U - they have a common history.
The U and V historically derive from the same letter.

00F7 and 2052 use the same elements in a different configuration. That's
ALL that
we know about them, unless you have additional research. Asserting a
is complete speculation at this point.

What we can attest is that ./. is a typewriter-supported (if not caused)
variant of
2052 (the exact elevation of the initial dot may have varied in hand
writing as
a "free variation", but the typewriter could only do the period).

We cannot attest that ./. is a variant of 00F7 or that 2052 was ever a
free variant
of 00F7. In today's usage, the selection depends on context (user group,
audience) and is not a free variant.
>>> It is an argument for seeing 00F7 as (also) a hyphen-minus variant, no?
>> Once you get into the dashes, there's tons of variant usage. What's
>> documented in Unicode tends to be from predominantly English-language
>> style manuals, but if you extend this to all publications in all
>> (Western) languages including recent historic times, I'm sure you'd
>> find surprising variations.
> Does the Unicode spec say this - that is is predominantly English
> language based?
It goes without saying that authors working in English have easier access to
manuals in that language. It's not intentional, but if you've been
around you
would find that in many cases, usage information from other languages has
tended to be incorporated as changes to the original text, not from the

So, go ahead and add more.
>>> As it is today, no one seems to realize how commercial
>>> minus relates to “division sign minus”.
>> "additional" names are ruled out - except to fix something that's
>> badly broken.
>> Neither of these characters has names that are misleading, mistyped or both.
>> There are many characters with deep relations that many users do no know
>> about. And, in this case, there seem to be some issues with the precise
>> relation you are trying to implement.
> I saw it as if in a mist. Now it becomes clearer and clearer to me. :-)
> This fun page indicates that the ./. “fallback” has a 35 year history.

No, it says that the history goes back *at least* 35 years. This figure
is probably based
on somebody's earliest *personal* recollection, not historical search,
and 35 years tends
to span a professional lifetime.
> Which could fit well together with a theory that the script variant
> grew in popularity when the ”international” ÷ division sign of
> computers entered German math. That ÷ as minus ”went back” due to
> computers and calculators, seems to be the general trend.
That, my friend, is utter and pure nonsense. I would call it an urban
legend in the
making. Instead of "mists" you are creating "myths" here, from whole
cloth, no less.


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