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Special characters: Shortcuts to insert symbols and other special characters

I don’t remember the HTML entity names for special characters. How does Wikipublisher help?


Sample of an early modern Roman typeface

Some people find it easy to remember that the HTML for ™ is the ™ entity. Unfortunately, the less often we use a special character, the more easily we forget how to reference it. There are several ways around this problem, including:

  • create GUI buttons for all the special characters, so an author just has to click on a button to insert the desired entity name
  • define wiki-style markup characters for at least the more commonly-used entities

Wikipublisher uses the second approach, on the basis that many authors already use the character combinations when writing plain text. For example, it is common practice to write “Windows (tm)” when we mean ™, so Wikipublisher interprets (tm) to mean the ™ entity. Similarly, it is common practice to write (c) and (r) for © and ® respectively (the © and ® entities). Wikipublisher also supports the upper case variants (TM), (C) and (R).

Other common practices are to write -> and <- when we mean → and ←. From time to time, we may write <-> or <--> to mean ↔. Readers may like to guess which set of characters produces the horizontal ellipsis (&hellip;) mark… It’s 3 full stops (...) of course. Alert readers may also have noticed that the single straight quote in “It's” is automatically curled, as are the surrounding double quotes.

Em dashes are easy — 2 single hyphens (--) generate the &mdash; entity. The en dash (meaning “to”) is generated automatically for number ranges separated by a hyphen, such as 2005–2008. Writers can also tell Wikipublisher to generate the &ndash; entity by writing `- (backtick hyphen): rough seas in Cook Strait sometimes delay the Wellington–Picton ferry. Some authors may prefer the LATEX dash style, where 3 hyphens represent an em dash and 2 hyphens represent an en dash. This can be implemented as a local customisation.

Dating from the time when PmWiki enabled Wiki Words by default, the backtick character (`) can be used as a prefix to prevent WikiWords. In Wikipublisher, we adopted the backtick as a general “don’t do what you usually do” character. The en dash (`-) is one example. The other common usage is backtick quote (`') to produce a right quote, so we get “Rock ’n’ Roll in the ’90s” (with backticks) instead of “Rock ‘n’ Roll in the ‘90s” (without).

The most unusual backtick usage is `. (backtick stop). This produces nothing. However, because it is removed after processing link markup, it is an unobtrusive way to suppress most wiki markup: thus -`.- produces -- instead of the — that we expect. Other uses of the backtick are for fractions: `1/4 + `1/2 = `3/4 produces ¼ + ½ = ¾. You can insert a non-breaking space with ` (backtick space) and a middot with `: — this inserts the · character. Finally, writing `/ inserts the ÷ character: 4 ÷ 2 = 2; and writing `* inserts the × character: 2 × 2 = 4.

Maybe you need minutes and seconds (or feet and inches) — the single and double prime marks. Use repeated quote marks: '' for single primes and "" for double primes; for example, 4′ 23″ is 4 minutes 23 seconds.

Category: markup

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Page last modified on 21 February 2008 at 08:29 PM