Italics get used to express important semantic meaning, so unicode should support them

Martin J. Dürst duerst at
Sat Dec 12 19:25:06 CST 2020

Asmus gives a lot of good reasons below. Here are some more:

Children learn to write with upper case and lower case letters in 
school, and most people continue to use both as adults. (There are 
exceptions of course, some people write only with lower case, and some 
only with upper case.) On the other hand, people who distinguish upright 
and italic in handwriting are extremely rare (maybe limited to editors 
of certain journals?).

Also, case is important in names. It's Ludwig van Beethoven, not Ludwig 
Van Beethoven, and LeBron James, not Lebron James. Italics don't come 
into consideration here at all.

For all these reasons, the upper/lower case distinction was and is also 
available on typewriters and keyboards. Again not so for italic.

Regards,   Martin.

On 13/12/2020 07:32, Asmus Freytag via Unicode wrote:
> On 12/12/2020 11:01 AM, Christian Kleineidam via Unicode wrote:
>> On Fri, Dec 11, 2020 at 11:38 PM Doug Ewell <doug at 
>> <mailto:doug at>> wrote:
>>     Christian Kleineidam wrote:
>>     > "Evidence suggesting that 𝐻𝑜𝑚𝑜 𝑛𝑒𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑙𝑒𝑛𝑠𝑖𝑠
>>     contributed the H2
>>     > 𝑀𝐴𝑃𝑇 haplotype to 𝐻𝑜𝑚𝑜 𝑠𝑎𝑝𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑠"
>>     "Evidence suggesting that Homo neanderthalensis contributed the H2 MAPT
>>     haplotype to Homo sapiens"
>>     This title is completely meaningful in plain text. The convention to style
>>     the names of species and haplotypes in italics is just that, a styling
>>     convention.
>> Would you also say there's no semantic difference between "Evidence suggesting 
>> that Homo neanderthalensis contributed the H2 MAPT haplotype to Homo sapiens" 
>> HAPLOTYPE TO HOMO SAPIENS"? If so, why does unicode allow those to be 
>> formatted differently?
>> I think that capitalization generally gets used to express semantic meaning. 
>> Capitalizing the first character of a sentence is a way to semantically mark 
>> the start of the sentence. Capitalizing Homo is a way to express semantics. 
>> Homo gets capitalized here for the same reasons as it gets italicized. In both 
>> cases it's because the semantics of a species name dictate it if you follow 
>> official recommendations.
> There are significant differences in usage as well as implication.
> A style, like "italics" can be applied to nearly the entire set of Unicode
> characters, while case is limited to a comparatively tiny subset. If Unicode
> wanted to encode styles like it does for case, it would mean multiplying the
> number of characters.
> But Mathalphabetics, you say. Well, in mathematical notation, certain styles are
> applied to very limited subsets. In effect, you could argue that in those
> contexts, certain stylistic variants work like case in ordinary orthographies.
> (Mathematical use of letter shapes is special, as it is almost exclusively
> using letter shapes as individual symbols, not part of words).
> Styles, commonly, are applied in runs, not to isolated code points. For case,
> the default is the other way around. In both cases, the exceptions prove the
> underlying rule.
> ALL UPPER CASE, as well as SMALL CAPS are more like a style than normal casing.
> As shown by the way they are supported like styles in feature-rich word
> processing apps.(The latter are not encoded: extending the arguments for
> encoding italics would force adding support for small caps as well).
> Styles, unlike case when applied to selected letters, tends to not have
> orthographic use. Even if it carries meaning that goes beyond being
> "decorative". There are exceptions even here, that prove the rule.
> Finally, the guiding design principle for "plain text" is that it is stateless
> (again, exceptions like bidi, are there to prove the rule). Styles, being
> applied in runs, are inherently not stateless, so are best expressed in stateful
> ways (that is, in one or the other rich-text protocols).
> The use case comes from lack of support of stateful text protocols (even limited
> ones) in places such as social media. There is no inherent reason why Twitter,
> Facebook and the like could not support "markdown" or similar protocols.
> On balance, all proposals for supporting some sort of "italics in Unicode"
> ignore not only the interrelationship shown in these facts, but also the well
> established historical division of "plain text" and "rich text" -- which Unicode
> has no business upsetting.
> A./

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