I break for descenders

Notice anything interesting about the sentence in this screenshot? Yes, it contains every letter in the English latin alphabet. Incidentally, it is set in Lucida Grande regular typeface. But what’s interesting about it, to me, is how the underlining breaks around the descenders— those tails of the letters q, j, p, y, and g that "descend" below the baseline.

I learned a long time ago that professional typography calls for minimal use of underlining, and when you must underline, you should place the underlines by hand so that they break before and after descenders. That way, you don’t get aesthetically displeasing line crossings on the letters.

What I didn’t know was that Mac OS X’s TextEdit program automatically breaks underlines before and after descenders. I don’t know when this feature was added, but I never noticed it before now. It’s great that there’s a program that automates the breaking of underlines so that they don’t cross descenders. It’s interesting to me that TextEdit — a program that comes with the Mac OS — does this, but Pages, a more advanced text editing and layout application, does not. I think it would be a good thing if Pages would offer all the features that TextEdit offers. Perhaps they will integrate Pages more with the Mac OS X font panel in the next version. I notice you can use the font panel to choose fonts and styles in Pages, but the underlining does not break around descenders in Pages the way it does in TextEdit— or MacJournal, for that matter, which integrates with the Font Panel as well as TextEdit does.

Am I missing something? Does Pages ’09 automatically break underlines around descenders? Are there other word processing programs that do? I would love to hear more about this from your experience.

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

2 thoughts on “I break for descenders”

  1. I'm no expert on API's, Christophe, but you might want to ask Dan Schimpf and/or the people at Mariner Software who make MacJournal, because MacJournal's font controls and behaviors are the same as in TextEdit.Good to know I'm not the only one who notices or cares.🙂

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  2. Is this a consequence of the multitude of typography APIs in MacOSX? I'd like to replicate the TextEdit functionality, but I'm not sure how to. As far as I remember, "classic" MacOS had this right by default. That may be where TextEdit gets it from. Pages, Safari or Microsoft Word get it wrong.Interesting.

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