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

Leif Halvard Silli xn--mlform-iua at
Thu Jan 16 07:54:55 CST 2014

"Jörg Knappen", Thu, 16 Jan 2014 09:26:10 +0100 (CET):
> The most important word in the comment on 00F7 ÷ DIVISION SIGN is 
> "occasionally".
> In fact, the occasions are such rare that you can live a whole life 
> in germany without encountering one of them.
> On the other hand, 00F7 ÷ DIVISION SIGN is used _frequently_ in 
> german schoolbooks to denote ...
> division (books aimed at professionals doing math prefer : (COLON) or 
> / (SLASH) for this purpose, but schoolbooks don't).

This sounds like Norway ...
> 2052 ⁒ commercial minus sign _always_ means subtraction and it has 
> this shape (or the alternate shape ./.)
> in all contexts, roman or italic. It is not the italic version of 
> some other symbol.

So, I can only once more emphasize that when I said ”italics” I meant 
it the way Unicode already have many characters (primarily mathematical 
ones) which are distinguished, in name, only by a reference to the 
style of the letter. Hope this helps.

As for the clarity of 2052 ⁒ commercial minus sign, no, you are wrong. 
While it is clear to you, in Germany, perhaps, at least in some 
Scandinavian school contexts, it has a different meaning, namely as a 
“well done” sign, from the teacher.

As for the Norwegian context, I guess we can say that the use of ÷ 
DIVISION SIGN as minus sing is more on the down than on the up. But it 
has its contexts (and just last week, I received an ad for glasses were 
it was used), and no one thinks about it. It is not an issue. When we 
get the taxation form on paper or in PDF form, the division minus is 
there, and everyone understands it correctly. (Knock on woods - *some* 
probably stumbles.) They don’t every realize what they see - it is 
knowledge that is unaccounted for. (For instance, until I took this up, 
Wikipedia made no mention of it.  Hah! Even Unicode 6.3 talks about the 
”commercial minus sign” in _Scandinavian_ taxation forms, without (is 
my claim) understanding that it talks about DIVISION SIGN. See my reply 
to Asmus.)

So what I don’t want is that the ”untraditional” uses of ÷ DIVISION 
SIGN are left in the dark as some strange traditions without any roots. 
Also, I don't want the commercial minus to live a life as if it is such 
a unique thing. Let us document things properly.

Leif Halvard Silli

> Gesendet: Donnerstag, 16. Januar 2014 um 04:43 Uhr
> Von: "Leif Halvard Silli" <xn--mlform-iua at må>
> An: unicode at
> Betreff: Commercial minus as italic variant of division sign in 
> German and Scandinavian context
> 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]
> --
> leif halvard silli
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