asterisks as bold or italic? (another push)

Lou Quillio public at
Tue Mar 30 17:15:38 EST 2004

On Mar 30, 2004, at 2:54 PM, Timothy Binder wrote:

> 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.

Wasn't underlining a typewriter kludge, a stand-in for oblique text 
since typewriters couldn't produce it?  Similarly, I believe the 
substitute for a +weight typeface was CAPS.  Romeo and Juliet 
(full-length works published separately, et al.) would only be 
underlined if italics weren't available.  The conventions were never 

So another way to look at it is that these were typewriter workarounds 
for conventions of long standing, unneeded before or after -- or 
during, except when using a typewriter.  A cognitive association 
certainly developed among typists, it's true, but won't we be the last 
to make it?  I think it was temporary, unidirectional, and is over.

Plus, caps and underscore have new meanings now.  It could be that we 
typewriter survivors should let it go.  I think these associations have 
only nostalgia benefit, and confuse the kids.

> (On a side note, I noticed that your website uses "—" instead of 
> "—". 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....)

The trouble with &mdash: and similar is that XML has only five 
internally-defined entities (& < > ' "), because it 
needs a way to escape these in character data.  You _can_ use the HTML 
named entities in well-formed XML, but you have to define them 
yourself.  At this stage of the game a lot of folks miss that.

In the case of MD/SP, the idea is probably that your source text is the 
version needing to be most human-readable, and that the output ought to 
be as ready-to-go for non-humans as possible.  I think if you key 
— in your text, SP will leave it alone.  Can't please everybody.


Lou Quillio
P.O. Box 24
Saratoga Springs, NY, USA 12866
518.796.0256 (cell)

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