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Re: [Nmh-workers] Changes to mh-tailor.man

From: Anthony J. Bentley
Subject: Re: [Nmh-workers] Changes to mh-tailor.man
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:58:42 -0600

Robert Elz writes:
> The issue which is not so clear is whether the '-' that introduces options
> on unix commands, and is used various other places (like scan last:-10)
> is really intended to be a hyphen, a minus, or some other kind of dash.
> The one on the scan example given is most likely a minus, but in "ls -l"
> (or "scan -width") it might really be an "n dash" that is intended (a
> minus would appear a little too high to look good.)
> This isn't helped by the fact that some people read out "ls -l" as
> "ell ess dash ell" and others as "ell ess minus ell" (I don't recall
> ever hearing "ell ess hyphen ell" but someone has probably said that.)
> No-one has ever been too concerned about this, as when we type (in ascii)
> there is but one character to use for all purposes (other than that sometimes
> we use it twice to simulate an "m dash",)  but when typesetting, it makes
> a difference.

It is also a problem when copy/paste gets involved (as often happens
in manpages). The historical convention has been to use \- for flags.
This gets transformed into an actual minus (Unicode U+2212) in some
typeset outputs, like Postscript and PDF and even HTML, but this
varies widely across troff implementations, to say the least.

Of course back in the 1970s nobody imagined using a mouse to select
typeset text and paste it into a terminal. The historical decisions
from back then thus negatively affect the modern, rich-fonted,
Unicode-oriented world.

Personally I like the route taken by troff's -mdoc macros: flags are
prefixed with ASCII '-' (so copy/paste works in all output formats), but
the flags are typeset in a fixed-width font and as a result the '-'
doesn't look unnaturally small.

> I have no idea if there is an established convention used by the unix
> book publishing industry.

At least all of Kernighan's books (such as UPE) use \- for command-line

Anthony J. Bentley

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