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Re: [groff] [patch] modernize -T ascii rendering of opening single quote

From: Anthony J. Bentley
Subject: Re: [groff] [patch] modernize -T ascii rendering of opening single quote
Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2019 16:24:26 -0700

Bjarni Ingi Gislason writes:
>   This issue is about a change, ( \(oq to ' for ascii and latin1 only )
> which is
> 1) a falsification, namely changing directional quotes to undirectional
> ones.

` and ' are not directional quotes in ASCII output. They are grave
accent and straight quote. This was common practice historically
and is almost universal now. Drawing ` and ' symmetrically as if they
were directional quotes happened in some places historically but was not
universal, and is distinctly uncommon today, to the point that most
groff users are in an environment where it is not the case.

> 2) making a distinction between directional and undirectional quotes
> impossible in the output (\(oq...\(cq and '...' become the same but are meant
> to be different).

The distinction is visible in any output capable of displaying
directional quotes.

>   When ` is written, it is meant to be that (left single quote).

And it shows up as a single left quote in output formats that support
such a concept. ASCII has no concept of 'left single quote,' as has been
discussed thoroughly in this thread. In ASCII, ` is typically defined as
a grave accent, not a left quote. Unicode has said so from the start,
but this has been common usage of ASCII since the 1980s or perhaps even

>   There is a distinction between pure text and text with typographic
> characters and formatting commands.

That's correct. ` in input does not necessarily translate to a literal
` in output, any more than ' necessarily translates to a literal
straight quote (which it does not in most output formats).

>   People that don't like or tolerate ` as a left single quote in the
> output, may change the output for themselves (using a filter or a
> private tmac-file), and should, may not change it for others.
> ...
>   The true reason for the change is not revealed (what exactly did the
> original "complainer" say?).

I believe I made the suggestion to Ingo. The "true reason" is that I
see confusion from users who don't understand why their manpages show
` ' which are clearly unbalanced in any modern (yes, modern) terminal
font. These people aren't aware that their manpage formatter is
catering to a particular font style that is no longer in common use.
They just see that man(1) outputs "weird quotes."

I myself do know the history, I've used many terminal fonts over the
years, and yet none of them display ` ' as directional quotes, not
even xterm's "fixed." They all follow the common, documented practice of
` being grave accent and ' being a straight quote.

There is no sinister motive here to erase the past.

Anthony J. Bentley

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