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

Doug Ewell doug at
Sat Dec 12 21:20:01 CST 2020

Others have covered pretty much everything I was going to respond to Christian with.

David Starner wrote:

> I'd like to circle back to what I think is the core reason: we've had
> character sets for seven decades, virtually all of which supported
> English, and if any have supported italics, I've never heard of it.

The only conceivable exception might be ISO-IR-68, which represented APL and its distinctive italic uppercase letters. The registration¹ for ISO-IR-68 named the letters (e.g.) "CAPITAL APL LETTER A" and noted that they were "[u]sually printed in italics," revealing that this was merely a font preference specific to APL, as the corresponding roman (non-italic) letters were not also included. All mapping tables from ISO-IR-68, including Unicode's, map the italic APL letters to normal ASCII letters.


Christian wrote:

> If so, why does unicode allow those [uppercase and lowercase letters]
> to be formatted differently?

For "formatted differently" I read "encoded separately"; Unicode doesn't dictate whether characters are displayed in an upright (roman) or italic style. If one uses George Douros's Akkadian font, for example, everything comes out in italics.

I wonder if the spelling "unicode" was meant here as a statement about the semantics of initial capitals. Standard English orthography requires that trade names like "Unicode" be spelled with an initial capital, whereas no orthographic requirement exists to spell anything with italics.

We do understand that not every possible nuance of human communication, such as shades of emphasis, can be expressed in plain text. It seems that the nearly 30-year-old Unicode definition of "plain text" still has not caught on universally, since requests continue to emerge for UTC to encode things that are not plain text by that definition.

Doug Ewell, CC, ALB | Thornton, CO, US |

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