# origin of `notation'

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### Buchs, Kevin

Nov 14, 2011, 3:22:54 PM11/14/11
to help-gn...@gnu.org
Ok, dumb question to which I have been unable to find the answer and which is distracting me:

In emacs documentation, what is the origin of using the accent grave (backtick) to introduce a quoted phrase, often a command, while using an apostrophe to terminate it. Example: (info) Keys and Commands: 1st paragraph: "binding" is quoted as such, but 2nd paragraph, `next-line' is quoted that way. If someone who knows the answer will take the time to answer, I promise I will document it on the Emacs wiki. Does this extend beyond emacs? Beyond GNU & FSF?

Kevin Buchs   |  Senior Engineer | Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering - SPPDG
507-538-5459  |   buchs...@mayo.edu |  http://www.mayo.edu/sppdg
Mayo Clinic  |  200 1st St. SW  |  Rochester, MN 55905

### Barry Margolin

Nov 14, 2011, 3:52:04 PM11/14/11
to
In article <mailman.539.13213032...@gnu.org>,
"Buchs, Kevin" <buchs...@mayo.edu> wrote:

> Ok, dumb question to which I have been unable to find the answer and which is
> distracting me:
>
> In emacs documentation, what is the origin of using the accent grave
> (backtick) to introduce a quoted phrase, often a command, while using an
> apostrophe to terminate it. Example: (info) Keys and Commands: 1st
> paragraph: "binding" is quoted as such, but 2nd paragraph, `next-line' is
> quoted that way. If someone who knows the answer will take the time to
> answer, I promise I will document it on the Emacs wiki. Does this extend
> beyond emacs? Beyond GNU & FSF?

The intent is to mimic normal typesetting, which uses different types of
quotes to begin and end quotations. The idea is that the quotes should
be balanced, looking something like:

\ /
binding

Modern character sets actually have these characters (some word
processors will automatically put them in, calling this feature "smart
quotes"). But Emacs's documentation is designed to work with
traditional ASCII, so it instead uses these characters, which are the
closest it has.

The unfortunate thing about this is that the characters don't actually
look like mirror images of each other. Backquote is slanted, but in
most fonts apostrophe/single-quote is vertical. So what you get is:

\ |
binding

which looks stupid. Maybe the original authors of the documentation
were using a font with a slanted apostrophe, so they started this
stylistic convention, and now we're stuck with it.

--
Barry Margolin, bar...@alum.mit.edu
Arlington, MA
*** PLEASE post questions in newsgroups, not directly to me ***

### Eli Zaretskii

Nov 14, 2011, 3:50:50 PM11/14/11
to help-gn...@gnu.org
> Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2011 14:22:54 -0600
> From: "Buchs, Kevin" <buchs...@mayo.edu>
>
> In emacs documentation, what is the origin of using the accent grave (backtick) to introduce a quoted phrase, often a command, while using an apostrophe to terminate it. Example: (info) Keys and Commands: 1st paragraph: "binding" is quoted as such, but 2nd paragraph, `next-line' is quoted that way. If someone who knows the answer will take the time to answer, I promise I will document it on the Emacs wiki. Does this extend beyond emacs? Beyond GNU & FSF?

That's what Texinfo produces for symbols in programming languages,
like Lisp and C, in the on-line manual. (In the printed manual,
there's no quotes, but the name of the symbol is typeset in monospace
typeface.)

### Bob Proulx

Nov 14, 2011, 4:14:29 PM11/14/11
to help-gn...@gnu.org
Eli Zaretskii wrote:
> Buchs, Kevin wrote:
> > In emacs documentation, what is the origin of using the accent
> > grave (backtick) to introduce a quoted phrase, often a command,
> > while using an apostrophe to terminate it. Example: (info) Keys
> > and Commands: 1st paragraph: "binding" is quoted as such, but 2nd
> > paragraph, `next-line' is quoted that way. If someone who knows
> > the answer will take the time to answer, I promise I will document
> > it on the Emacs wiki. Does this extend beyond emacs? Beyond GNU &
> > FSF?
>
> That's what Texinfo produces for symbols in programming languages,
> like Lisp and C, in the on-line manual. (In the printed manual,
> there's no quotes, but the name of the symbol is typeset in monospace
> typeface.)

In some typical font long ago the two symbols ` and ' were symmetrical
mirror images of each other. In those days the apostrophe was
rendered in an image that looked like the UTF-8 U+2019 symbol ’ and
the result was `...’ which looked quite normal. I know some people
(hello Karl!) who continue to hack their current fonts to maintain
that effect. Of course in today's fonts the apostrophe is most
typically rendered as a single vertical without any slant and the
original presentation effect is lost.

Bob

### Alan Mackenzie

Nov 14, 2011, 4:53:00 PM11/14/11
to
Hi, Bob.

Bob Proulx <b...@proulx.com> wrote:
> Eli Zaretskii wrote:
>> Buchs, Kevin wrote:
>> > In emacs documentation, what is the origin of using the accent
>> > grave (backtick) to introduce a quoted phrase, often a command,
>> > while using an apostrophe to terminate it. Example: (info) Keys
>> > and Commands: 1st paragraph: "binding" is quoted as such, but 2nd
>> > paragraph, `next-line' is quoted that way. If someone who knows
>> > the answer will take the time to answer, I promise I will document
>> > it on the Emacs wiki. Does this extend beyond emacs? Beyond GNU &
>> > FSF?

>> That's what Texinfo produces for symbols in programming languages,
>> like Lisp and C, in the on-line manual. (In the printed manual,
>> there's no quotes, but the name of the symbol is typeset in monospace
>> typeface.)

> In some typical font long ago the two symbols ` and ' were symmetrical
> mirror images of each other. In those days the apostrophe was
> rendered in an image that looked like the UTF-8 U+2019 symbol ? and
> the result was `...? which looked quite normal. I know some people
> (hello Karl!) who continue to hack their current fonts to maintain
> that effect. Of course in today's fonts the apostrophe is most
> typically rendered as a single vertical without any slant and the
> original presentation effect is lost.

In the font on my Linux tty, ` and ' are still (almost) symmetrical
glyphs. Just read info on a tty, and all will be forgiven. :-)

> Bob

--
Alan Mackenzie (Nuremberg, Germany).

Message has been deleted

### Xah Lee

Nov 15, 2011, 3:01:38 AM11/15/11
to

On Nov 14, 12:22 pm, "Buchs, Kevin" <buchs.ke...@mayo.edu> wrote:
> Ok, dumb question to which I have been unable to find the answer and which is distracting me:
>
> In emacs documentation, what is the origin of using the accent grave (backtick) to introduce a quoted phrase, often a command, while using an apostrophe to terminate it.  Example: (info) Keys and Commands: 1st paragraph: "binding" is quoted as such, but 2nd paragraph, `next-line' is quoted that way. If someone who knows the answer will take the time to answer, I promise I will document it on the Emacs wiki. Does this extend beyond emacs? Beyond GNU & FSF?

it's a hack of 1970s to overcome the lack of proper matching quote
characters in ASCII.

It is also used by TeX, though i'm not sure we could say that TeX is
the first to adopt it. Back in 1970s, this hack is easy to conceive.

I'd be interested to know the real history of what programs first use
this convention, from those who are in the industry in the 1960s,
1970s, or 1980s.

For some detail on quotation symbols, and the GNU convention, see:

〈The Moronicities of Typography: Hyphen, Dash, Quotation Marks,
Apostrophe〉
http://xahlee.org/Periodic_dosage_dir/bangu/typography.html

〈Problems of Symbol Congestion in Computer Languages; ASCII Jam vs
Unicode〉
http://xahlee.org/comp/comp_lang_unicode.html

〈Computer Language Design: String Syntax〉
http://xahlee.org/comp/strings_syntax_in_lang.html

Xah

### Scott Burson

Nov 15, 2011, 4:36:46 PM11/15/11
to
On Nov 15, 12:01 am, Xah Lee <xah...@gmail.com> wrote:
> On Nov 14, 12:22 pm, "Buchs, Kevin" <buchs.ke...@mayo.edu> wrote:
>
> > Ok, dumb question to which I have been unable to find the answer and which is distracting me:
>
> > In emacs documentation, what is the origin of using the accent grave (backtick) to introduce a quoted phrase, often a command, while using an apostrophe to terminate it.  Example: (info) Keys and Commands: 1st paragraph: "binding" is quoted as such, but 2nd paragraph, `next-line' is quoted that way. If someone who knows the answer will take the time to answer, I promise I will document it on the Emacs wiki. Does this extend beyond emacs? Beyond GNU & FSF?
>
> it's a hack of 1970s to overcome the lack of proper matching quote
> characters in ASCII.

Right. In some old X fonts, actually, the two characters are mirror
images, though it's rare to see them done like that anymore.

-- Scott

### Johann 'Myrkraverk' Oskarsson

Nov 15, 2011, 10:07:46 PM11/15/11
to
I use the patch to Terminus to have the opposites of each other. As
can be seen in the screenshot at
http://www.myrkraverk.com/~johann/netscape-news-terminus-font.png

P.S.
And yes, I'm using Netscape Navigator Gold because I can.

--
PostgreSQL Development, 24x7 Support, Training and Services --+--
|
Blog: http://my.opera.com/myrkraverk/blog/

### Buchs, Kevin

Nov 17, 2011, 10:51:53 AM11/17/11
to help-gn...@gnu.org
Thanks, Bob Proulx and Eli Zaretskii for your responses to my question:
> In emacs documentation, what is the origin of using the accent
> grave (backtick) to introduce a quoted phrase, often a command,
> while using an apostrophe to terminate it.

I have recorded the information provided here:
http://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/EmacsDocumentationNotation

My follow-up question is why it is still used for online documentation when emacs can do such wonderful things with fonts in graphical mode. Why not just produce italics or color?

### Eli Zaretskii

Nov 17, 2011, 11:55:01 AM11/17/11
to help-gn...@gnu.org
> Date: Thu, 17 Nov 2011 09:51:53 -0600
> From: "Buchs, Kevin" <buchs...@mayo.edu>
>
> My follow-up question is why it is still used for online documentation when emacs can do such wonderful things with fonts in graphical mode. Why not just produce italics or color?

Because no one wrote the code to do that.

Feel free to suggest a patch along these lines to Emacs developers.