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

Asmus Freytag asmusf at
Thu Jan 16 01:17:46 CST 2014

I find it unhelpful to consider 2052 as the italic variant of 00F7, and
further find the "evidence" for that not all that germane.

Both are variants of the "-" sign, and so ipso facto are variants of
each other.

However, to identify something as "italic" to me would require that
one form is used in the context of italic fonts, while the other is not.

I cannot see anything supporting that interpretation in the "evidence"
adduced below.

On the contrary, you would expect both forms available in sans-serif
and typewriter fonts (those being perhaps the most common for
accounting), and perhaps also roman.

Further, while italic (as well as oblique fonts) tend to slant the letter
forms, there's not a universal, established practice of turning horizontal
dashes into slashes to mark the alternation between roman and
italic fonts. From that perspective, considering one the "italic"
variant of the other also appears to be a non-starter.

However, it seems to be possible to establish that these two
characters are indeed rather close variants: both are used
to visually emphasize the minus sign by means of decorating
it with a pair of dots. And both are employed in situations that
are have a large semantic overlap. (Not surprisingly, because their
meaning is based on the minus sign).

The choice of variant, though, is driven by context and tradition
for a given type of document, not by choice of font style.
And, the choice of using 2052 instead of hyphen-minus or minus
is deliberate and conscious, making it an alternate spelling rather
than an alternate "glyph".

If 00F7 can be used to stand in as a marked 2011, as claimed in
the Unicode namelist annotation then that use is clearly NOT
as a variant of 2052, because 2011 does not have
any connotations of negation. That means the semantic
relations between 00F7 and 2052 only partially overlap, which
is yet another indication that thinking of one as a font-style
variant of the other is not particularly helpful - even if the
ultimate origin may have derived from the same sign.

At this stage of the game, they are properly disunified,
just as i and j or u and v.


On 1/15/2014 7:43 PM, Leif Halvard Silli wrote:
> Thanks to our discussion in July 2012,[1] the Unicode code charts now
> says, about 00F7 ÷ DIVISION SIGN, this:
>    “• occasionally used as an alternate, more visually
>       distinct version of 2212 − {MINUS SIGN} or 2011 ‑
>       {NON-BREAKING HYPHEN} in some contexts
>          [… snip …]
>     → 2052 ⁒ commercial minus sign”
> However, I think it can also be added somewhere that commercial minus
> is just the italic variant of ”division minus”. I’ll hereby argue for
> this based on an old German book on ”commercial arithmetics” I have
> come accross, plus what the the July 2012 discussion and what Unicode
> already says about the commercial sign:
>     German language is an important locale for the Commercial Minus. In
> German, the Commercial minus is both referred to as ”kaufmännische
> Minus(zeichen)” and as "buchhalterische Minus" (”Commercial Minus
> Character” and ”Bookkeeper Minus”). And, speaking of ”division minus”
> in the context I know best, Norway, we find it in advertising
> (commercial context) and in book keeping documentation and taxation
> forms. Simply put, what the Unicode 6.2 ”General Punctuation” section
> says about Commercial Minus, can also be said about DIVISION SIGN used
> as minus: «U+2052 % commercial minus sign is used in commercial or tax
> related forms or publications in several European countries, including
> Germany and Scandinavia.» So, basically and for the most part, the
> commercial minus and the ”division sign minus” occur in the very same
> contexts, with very much the same meaning. This is a strong hint that
> they are the same character.
>     Is there any proof that German used both an italics variant and a
> non-italics variant of the “division minus”? Seemingly yes. The book
> “Kaufmännische Arithmetik” (“Commercial arithmetics”) from 1825 by
> Johann Philipp Schellenberg. By reading section 118 «Anhang zur
> Addition und Subtraction der Brüche» [”Appendix about the addition and
> subtraction of fractions”]) at page 213 and onwards,[2] we can conclude
> that he describes as “commercial” use of the ÷ ”division minus”, where
> the ÷ signifies a _negative remainder_ of a division (while the plus
> sign is used to signify a positive remainder). Or to quote, from page
> 214: «so wird das Fehlende durch das [Zei]chen ÷ (minus) bemerkt, und
> bei Berechn[nung der Preis der Waare abgezogen» [”then the lacking
> remainder is marked with the ÷ (minus) and withdrawn when the price of
> the commodity is calculated”]. {Note that some bits of the text are
> lacking, I marked my guessed in square brackets.} I did not find (yet)
> that he used the italic commercial minus, however, the context is
> correct. (My guess is that the italics variant has been put to more
> use, in the computer age, partly to separate it from the DIVISION SIGN
> or may be simply because people started to see it often in handwriting
> but seldom in print. And so would not have recognized it in the form of
> the non-italic division sign.)
> The word “abgezogen” in the above quote is interesting since the Code
> Charts for 2052 ⁒ COMMERCIAL MINUS cites the related German word
> “abzüglich”. And from the Swedish context, the charts quotes the
> expression “med avdrag”. English translation might be ”to be withdrawn”
> or ”with subtraction/rebate [for]”. Simply put, we here see the
> commercial meaning.
> UNICODE 6.3 notes that in some European (e.g. Finnish, Swedish and
> perhaps Norwegian) traditions, teachers use the Commercial Minus Sign
> to signify that something is correct (whereas a red check mark is used
> to signify error). If my theory is right, that commercial minus and
> division sign minus are the same signs, how on earth is that possible?
> How can a minus sign count as positive for the student?
> The answer is, I think, to be found in the Code Chart’s Swedish
> description ("med avdrag"/"with subtraction/rebate"). Because, I think
> that the correct understanding is not that it means "correct" or "OK".
> Rather, it denotes something that is counted in the customer/student’s
> favor. So, you could say it it really means "slack", or "rebate".  So
> it really mans ”good answer“. It is a ”rebate” that the student
> rightfully deserves.
> If we look at it from a very high level, then we can say that the
> division minus is used to signify something that is the result of a
> calculation - such as a price, an entry in bookkeeping or, indeed, a
> character/mark/point/score in a (home)work evaluated by a teacher.
> Whereas the ”normal” minus sign is used to when we represent negative
> data. For example, in taxation, all the numbers one reports, is the
> result of some calculation. Likewise, when a teach ticks of an answer
> as “good answer”, then it is because the teacher has evaluated (a.k.a.
> ”calculated”) the answer and found it to be good and that the student
> has calculated correctly/well.
> The commercial minus looks like a percentage sign. And also, in
> programming, e.g. JavaScript, the percentage sign is often used for the
> modulo operator - which is an operator that finds the dividend of a
> division.
> Hence, when we take all this together, I believe we have to conclude
> that the COMMERCIAL MINUS is just the italic variant of the DIVISION
> PS: For more German documentation of this custom, it would probably be
> wise to research books about bookkeeping as well as ”commercial
> arithmetics”. I also have a suspicion that it would be worth
> investigation contexts where modulo/division remainders operations are
> found - for instance, in calendar calculations.
> [1]
> [2]

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