asterisks as bold or italic? (another push)

Timothy Binder lists at
Tue Mar 30 14:54:46 EST 2004

>>> Markdown treats asterisks (*) and underscores (_) as indicators
>>> of emphasis. Text wrapped with one * or _ will be wrapped with an
>>> HTML <em> tag; double *’s or _’s will be wrapped with an HTML
>>> <strong> tag.
>> It's probably late in the game for a syntax suggestion, but I'm 
>> having a
>> hard time getting used to "*foo*" making text <em> instead of 
>> <strong>.
>> <snip>
>> If it's just my own peculiar habit, I can certainly un-learn it, but 
>> I'm
>> curious if anyone else had this experience when using Markdown.
> +1.  I'm of the same opinion; *bold* but _italics_.  Admitedly, this
> has been reinforced by using Textile for the last 6 months, but I do
> think it's more intuitive.  Not a make-or-break issue, however.


First off, I want to thank everyone for this system. I am looking 
forward to implementing it on our website publishing system, to allow 
end users to markup text without knowledge of HTML. (Or giving them the 
ability to screw up existing tags. :-)

I haven't used any of the mentioned I have no 
preexisting bias from a markup system. However, I would *strongly* push 
for the change suggested upon for another reason -- similarity to 
written markup.

Specifically, on a typewriter, you are supposed to mark certain items, 
such as titles (e.g. Romeo and Juliet), by underlining them. When you 
typeset them (which is what you are effectively doing when using 
computerized publishing), the equivalent is to italicize the item. 
This, to me, shows a long-standing one-to-one correspondence between 
italics and underlining.

I also feel that *emphasis* is stronger than _emphasis_. Just on a 
visual basis, "*" is larger & stronger than "_". Looking at a paragraph 
with both, the *asterisked* word jumps out at you, whereas the 
_underlined_ word is more subtle, at least to me. This, too, directly 
corresponds with the difference between boldface and italics. Boldface 
tends to interrupt the flow of the text and jump out at the reader, 
whereas italics are a more subtle emphasis.

I know Ben Williams posted a patch to support this change. However, I 
believe that standards are a good thing and will probably end up using 
whatever syntax Markdown officially supports, since I wouldn't want to 
have to change gears when going to a different site -- nor expect 
anyone else, especially my users, to do so.

While you pointed out in a previous post that it is late in the game to 
be making such changes, I would counter that the time to do it is now, 
while the software is still in beta, prior to its "official" release.

Alternately, if you decide to allow alternate syntax, as previously 
discussed, I would suggest allowing a way to indicate syntax choice in 
the body of the text, rather than just at the command line. The 
reasoning behind this: you wouldn't have to change gears to post on 
various Markdown sites -- just include the appropriate tag. Of course, 
this somewhat defeats the purpose of removing tags, but should still be 

(On a side note, I noticed that your website uses "&#8212;" instead of 
"&mdash;". I think the latter is better than the decimal encoded 
version, as anyone reading the code can immediately see what is 
supposed to be there. However, that's a SmartyPants issue....)

I want to be clear that I really appreciate your work. If it wasn't of 
value, I wouldn't be taking my time to make these comments. (I kept 
going back and forth as to whether or not to send them, but felt that 
this issue and this product was important enough that I should at least 
make the argument. What can I say? Ever since the Mac was introduced, 
I've become a typography nut. I'm still working on getting people to 
stop double spacing after periods, a strictly typewriter convention.... 

Timothy Binder                                Director, President-Elect
Philadelphia Science Fiction Society             <>
      Upcoming Guests: Warren Lapine, James Morrow, John Passarella

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