Unicode: What the world needs now is love

Last week, a Deaf friend of mine made a good point about Unicode adding a “raised middle finger” symbol to the new standard: “They still need an ASL ILY emoji.” Right she is! If you can flip someone the bird, you should be able to say “I love you” too. Perhaps submitting a character proposal to Unicode is in order.


Unicode 7.0 Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs (PDF)
Original Facebook post:

There is no ass to Rick — and four other symbols you mispronounce

As an interpreter, I go to many places where people call typographical symbols by the wrong names. It irks me, but I can’t say anything about it while I’m interpreting, so please hear me now as I correct some common errors.

This is an at sign, a.k.a. at symbol or simply at when spoken in an email address. It is not an ampersand.
This is an ampersand.
This is a slash. It is not a backslash.
This is a backslash.
This is an asterisk. If you don’t pronounce the s before the k, you risk offending Rick.

This is Rick. Unfortunately for him, there is no asterick.

Yes, I am the kind of person who spends 15 minutes searching for the multiplication sign. 8-}

Yes, I’m the guy who just spent 15 minutes searching for the Mac keyboard shortcut for the mathematical “times” or “multiply” sign [×]. There is no shortcut; however, I did learn that the official name for this glyph is “multiplication sign” (who knew?), the Unicode identifier is 00D7, the HTML name code is “times”, the HTML number code is 215 (but I can’t show the HTML code without WordPress converting it, apparently), the Unicode identifier is 00D7, and the Windows keyboard entry method is Alt+0215. For my Mac, I opened Edit, Special Characters, typed in “multiplication sign”, and saved the glyph to my Favorites.

If you’re interested, some of my other favorites are the “beamed eighth notes” to symbolize music [♫], the “black heart suit” sign [♥] to symbolize love, the French quotation marks, or «guillemets», a.k.a. “left-pointing double angle quotation mark” [«] and “right-pointing double angle quotation mark” [»], the proper characters to denote the feet and inches in my height, 5′ 11″, called the “prime” [′] and “double prime” [″], and the “trade mark sign” [™] which I like to use sarcastically to represent that something that should be bottled and sold, such as doing typography The Right Way™.

Thanks to Arnold Winkelried aka Noodles for his webpage, Keyboard Shortcuts for special characters, which answered my question about the multiplication sign that I had read at least a dozen other pages in search of.

And now, with the (at least) 15 minutes I spent on writing this blog post, I have spent a half an hour more than the average (and maybe saner) person who would type 2 x 2 and be done with it. But I console myself with the knowledge that there are hundreds of nerds like me out there who will be glad that I shared this seemingly trivial information with them. So there! 🙂

P.S. I just spent another 20 minutes trying to write the HTML name and number codes without having them converted to the × character itself. Fighting with technology before 8 AM on a Sunday morning, oy!

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.

Why are there nearly identical fonts?

I learned from the movie Helvetica that the reason Arial is nearly identical to Helvetica is that Microsoft didn’t want to pay license fees to distribute the Helvetica font so they hired Monotype to modify Linotype’s Helvetica slightly. They just made sure to keep the same font metrics so that a document written in Helvetica would have the same layout and pagination in Arial and vice versa.

But I don’t always understand why there are other fonts that are nearly identical but with different font metrics and/or line spacing; for instance, why are Monotype Corsiva and Apple Chancery so similar? Is it because Apple wanted their own copyright on a font similar to Monotype Corsiva? And why are Bordeaux Roman Bold LET and Monotype Onyx so similar? Is it because Microsoft commissioned Monotype to create Onyx in 1992 after LET created Bordeaux Roman Bold in 1990? Or is there just a “me too” factor involved, in which each foundry wants a product to fulfill similar demands?

I’ve spent some time looking at the differences and similarities, and I’ve noticed that Bordeaux Roman Bold has ligatures and a more extended character repertoire than Onyx, though Onyx is a bit bolder and easier on the eyes. Also, I like the tighter line spacing of Onyx. So it’s a hard to choose a favorite between Bordeaux Roman Bold and Onyx. It’s easy to pick Apple Chancery over Monotype Corsiva because Apple Chancery has a beautiful set of of both common and rare ligatures, more calligraphic letters (especially the slashed dot on the lowercase i), and a much larger character repertoire than Corsiva. When it comes to extended characters, Times New Roman beats Times, but I’ll choose Times almost every time because of its pretty ligatures. If I needed to format a text with rarer characters, though, I would choose Times New Roman. As with the choice between any two similar fonts, it comes down to the application— how many extended characters do you need for what you want to write?

And speaking of fonts whose names have “new” (or “neue”) in them, I’ve found that a “new” version of a font doesn’t always have more characters than the original. While Times New Roman and Courier New have more characters than Times and Courier, Helvetica Neue has a much smaller repertoire of characters than Helvetica. But then Helvetica Neue has all those lovely weights and widths, so it all depends…

Do you know more about the history behind fonts that are nearly identical? If so, please leave a comment and share the knowledge. Thanks!