asterisks as bold or italic? (another push)

John Gruber gruber at
Tue Mar 30 18:47:25 EST 2004

Timothy Binder <lists at> wrote on 03/30/04 at 2:54p:

> This, to me, shows a long-standing one-to-one correspondence between 
> italics and underlining.

Sure. And there are other existing structured plain text formats
that do emphasis just like this. But I think everyone needs to
acknowledge that there is precedent for both this:

  -  =>  em
  *  =>  strong


  *  =>  em
  ** =>  strong

But while there are numerous precedents for both, they are,
obviously, mutually exclusive. Pointing one more precedent doesn't
really change things.

> I also feel that *emphasis* is stronger than _emphasis_. Just on a 
> visual basis, "*" is larger & stronger than "_".

That's totally subjective. I agree, and it's the reason that I never personally use underscores for emphasis. I only use asterisks.

And so in fact, the only thing I'd consider doing different is
dropping underscores entirely, and *only* allowing asterisks for
emphasis. That's my personal style, and in my heart, I believe it's
the One True Way.

But while I never use underscores-for-emphasis in my writing, and
believe that style to be wrong, it was obvious that Markdown could
easily accomodate people who want to use `_` for em. So I did it,
because it was just so easy to support, and I know that there are
lots of people who use `_` like that already.

But note that I never even considered using one `*` for strong.

> 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 
> considered.

I know it's tempting. I've been tempted. But I firmly believe this
is the path to madness.

> 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.

That's quite all right. I appreciate it. I'm sure most people here
on this list disagree with at least one my of decisions about
Markdown's syntax. That's inherent in making something "small" and
mostly option/config-free like Markdown -- most feature wishes
aren't going to be accommodated.

The hope is that even though I'm going to say "no" to everyone's pet
request, the simplicity of the end result -- will be enough to make
everyone happy overall. And the whole reason Markdown will remain
simple is that I'm going to say "no" to 90+ percent of the requests.

This (the idea of using `*` for strong, perhaps as an option) just
happens to be an idea on the "no" side of the 90/10 line.


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