Re: Apostrophes, quotation marks, keyboards and typography

From: Mark Davis (
Date: Sun Jul 18 1999 - 13:47:47 EDT

> also seems that while Unicode declares U+02BC to be the recommended
> character that should be used as an apostrophe in words such as "isn't",
There seems to be some misunderstanding. "The Unicode Standard®, Version
2.1" gives the following text (see Apostrophe Semantics

> U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE is preferred where the character is to represent a modifier letter (for example, in
> transliterations to indicate a glottal stop.) In the latter case, it is also referred to as a letter apostrophe.
> U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARKis preferred where the character is to represent a punctuation mark, as in "We’ve been
> here before." In the latter case, U+2019 is also referred to as a punctuation apostrophe.

U+2019 is used in contractions of two words, such as "isn't",
"l'apostrophe", in other cases where it indicates missing letters, such as
"int'l", or in grammatical forms such as "parents'". U+02BC is used very
rarely, and probably doesn't need to be on keyboards, except those
specifically designed to handle special modifier letters or specific

However, I agree that having the curly quotes (single and double) on the
standard keyboard would be handy. I switch back and forth between a Mac and
Windows. On the Mac, the option key (a second level shift) has always made
this easy. The installable Windows international keyboard is not nearly so
useful, since you can't just leave it on all the time (it messes up your
used of quotation marks).


P.S. In general, people should be aware that they cannot simply go by the
published text of the Unicode Standard, Version 2.0; there are signification
revisions of the standard contained in the technical reports.

Markus Kuhn wrote:

> Something that has bothered me for some time:
> Unicode features three very important characters that can also very
> easily be confused:
> Unicode 2.1 suggests that U+0027 be visually clearly distinct
> (vertically symmetrical, direction neutral) from U+02BC and U+2019, and
> it also declares U+0027 to be less preferable then the other two forms.
> Current keyboards have only one single key for both apostrophe and
> quotation mark, which is usually associated with U+0027. This follows
> old typewriter practice, but is typographically completely outdated.
> Software such as Microsoft's Word tries to automatically replace U+0027
> with U+2018 and U+2019 on entry. This works sometimes and fails
> sometimes, and I see in books and newspaper articles more and more often
> two different types of apostrophes intermixed within the same text. It
> also seems that while Unicode declares U+02BC to be the recommended
> character that should be used as an apostrophe in words such as "isn't",
> Microsoft has decided to unify U+02BC and U+2019 and provide only one
> single code for both function in CP1252 at position 0x92. In addition,
> European keyboard users who have a separate key for acute and grave
> accent also use these two keys frequently to misrepresent both quotation
> marks and apostrophes, which adds further to the confusion. Old ASCII
> versions encouraged even to use grave accent as a left quotation mark
> and apostrophe as a right quotation mark, which looks nice with some
> fonts and horrible with others (especially those following the
> standards).
> Somehow, I feel the entire situation has become rather confusing and
> leaves something to be desired.
> Remarks and suggestions:
> At first, I must admit that I have to agree with Microsoft that I see
> little reason for not unifying
> since the two characters although they are semantically distinct are
> graphically indistinguishable in practically all fonts. Keyboard typists
> can hardly be expected to select the right character and automatic
> smart-quote algorithms also cannot be expected to get this distinction
> right reliably. Couldn't Unicode follow Microsoft and just remove the
> recommendation that U+02BC be the recommended apostrophe character and
> instead give U+2019 the dual meaning that it de-facto has already today?
> I addition, I feel that the current ISO 8859 oriented national keyboard
> standards are not adequate for modern Unicode-era word processing
> practices, as they put obsolete typewriter characters such as U+0027 on
> too prominent keys, while they have no key positions for the extremely
> frequently needed typesetting characters that are for instance supported
> by CP1252 (directional single and double quotes, en and em dashes,
> etc.). Software either has to use shaky algorithms to make educated
> guesses on which character the user might have meant (such as Word tries
> to do), or sequences of ASCII characters are interpreted with new
> semantics (such as both TeX and Word do), in order to give typists some
> compromise access to these characters.
> I think it is urgent time to revise national keyboard standards here. We
> really need standardized ways to easily enter say at least
> 2013 EN DASH
> 2014 EM DASH
> on keyboards for English language users, and corresponding extensions on
> other national keyboard standards. This might be a good opportunity to
> introduce on US keyboards the Level 2 Select key (AltGr), while on
> European keyboards is is probably sufficient to just add appropriate
> labels to a number of new Level 2 Select positions.
> May be, the folks who blessed us a few years ago with the Windows95 keys
> are in a good position to help and start promoting something much more
> useful here, towards finally upgrading keyboard layout standards to the
> needs of the typographic word processing era?
> We could have either commonly agreed entry methods for these characters
> (say as a new amendment to ISO 14755), or better even new labeled key
> positions.
> Opinions and suggestions?
> Markus
> --
> Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
> Email: mkuhn at, WWW: <>

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