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

Sławomir Osipiuk sosipiuk at
Mon Dec 21 13:20:25 CST 2020

On Mon, Dec 21, 2020 at 6:23 AM Dominikus Dittes Scherkl via Unicode
<unicode at> wrote:
> But in fact, you DID preserve it - in plain text - by adding an
> underscore before and after the word with emphasis. You could also have
> used ' or " or even * for the same effect, but nevertheless it is
> already possible to preserve the special intent of the author _without_
> any further additions.

This doesn't hold water. People can cobble together methods of
conveying meaning. It doesn't mean they're ideal, good, or even
acceptable. The use of underscores, asterisks, and whatnot to indicate
emphasis is a hack to fit with the limitations imposed by technology.
By the same logic, one could argue that ¿ and ¡ didn't need to be
encoded for the benefit of Spanish users, because they COULD just use
ordinary ? and ! and they would still be understood.

I can use an axe to bang nails into a wall, but it's silly to say I
don't REALLY need a hammer.

As a mildly interesting aside, technical limitations of print have
driven changes to language before. It's partly the reason why þ
(thorn) is no longer part of the English alphabet. It's still not an
excuse for doing similar things today. In a few more decades
underscores and asterisks may become fully accepted punctuation,
resulting from the limits we currently have in plain text. Technology
should adapt to us, not the other way around.

Indeed, I would argue that the use of such "human-readable markup" is
evidence FOR the inclusion of basic formatting in plain text. There is
such demand for it that people are willing to settle for inelegant
hacks to get their meaning across.

> Also even with italics allowed (and maybe bold or othere style features)
> this does not indicate _what_ was special about the highlighted words.
> Was it emphasis? Or indicated a thought? Or a special meaning of an
> ambiguous word? Or whatever else? - all this would need further
> agreement or conventions, which are not standardized so far.

Newspapers often italicize words and they're clearly following some
(possibly internal) standard. The example of novels has already been
given. There are conventions for such things, often varying by medium
and language. The precise meaning of formatting does NOT need to be
standardised by Unicode to make it available as a tool.

Sławomir Osipiuk

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