RE: Simple symbol question

Subject: RE: Simple symbol question
From: "Dick Margulis " <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2001 11:18:36 -0400

Kevin wrote:

>Maybe a symbol can have more than one name, depending
>upon context.

Careful there, Kevin.

The more common situation is that several different symbols are casually represented by a single ascii character, given that ascii only has room for 96 characters. ISO 8859-1 (Latin-1) has room for 224 characters, so now we can have, for example, open and close quotes, an apostrophe that isn't a foot mark, etc. But we are still dealing with a very narrow subset of possible typographic glyphs.

Once we get past the limitations of Web pages and email, moving to printed doc, we get to use multiple fonts, so we can switch to a symbol font for special characters, or we can use Unicode fonts (that allow for thousands of glyphs). At this point, we can pretty much always use the right glyph for the right symbol if we want to go to the trouble. Problem is, people who learned about special characters from ascii up (rather than from typesetting down) still tend to associate multiple symbols with a single glyph.

For HTML purposes, < and > are angle brackets. I've got no problem with that. But if I'm composing a math text, I've got to be able to distinguish between those and the less than and greater than symbols. Because the next thing you're going to need is less than or equals, and it had better look like it's related to the less than, rather than the the brackets and braces.

So, reviewing: a glyph is a character in a font used to depict a unique symbol. A symbol is a representation of a concept, almost always a unique concept. Two concepts generally require two symbols. In type, this generally means two glyphs. In constrained character encodings, glyphs that look somewhat similar are often conflated, under the assumption that the astute reader will figure out which is intended by the context.

However, absent the need for that conflation, glyphs have unique names and symbols have unique names.


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