Emacs Lisp Doc String Curly Quote Controversy

By Xah Lee. Date: .

I just made a rough count. The curly quotes issue has generated over 100k words on the #emacs dev list. That's 3 times my doctoral thesis.

[from 9 Sep 2015, Artur Malabarba on twitter https://twitter.com/AMalabarba/status/641598687467163648]

Tip: Never make your code less readable simply out of fear that some programs might not handle non-ASCII characters properly. If that happens, those programs are broken and they must be fixed.

[from 2017-08-06 Google's JavaScript style guide https://google.github.io/styleguide/jsguide.html ]

in 2015, emacs dev mailing list has a flame war about whether elisp doc string should contain the curly quotes as literal unicode characters.



it ends up with thousand or so messages, spanning 4 months.

  1. Support curved quotes in doc strings. 2015-05-28
  2. Upcoming loss of usability of Emacs source files and Emacs. 2015-06-15 https://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/emacs-devel/2015-06/msg00202.html
  3. On the masking of undisplayable characters
  4. A simple solution to “Upcoming loss of usability ...”
  5. Escaping quotes in docstrings
  6. text-quoting-style
  7. Please stop putting curly quotes into doc strings. 2015-09 https://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/emacs-devel/2015-09/msg00253.html

in the end, Richard Stallman, killed it with a single email.

From:   Richard Stallman
Subject: Please stop putting curly quotes into doc strings!
Date:   Fri, 04 Sep 2015 21:14:42 -0400

Please stop inserting curly quotes into doc strings in Emacs sources.

Dr Richard Stallman
President, Free Software Foundation (gnu.org, fsf.org)
Internet Hall-of-Famer (internethalloffame.org)
Skype: No way! See stallman.org/skype.html.

he was not the maintainer.

One of the message, cited one of my article.

Re: [Emacs-diffs] master 9ce1d38: Use curved quotes in core elisp diagno
From: Paul Eggert
Subject: Re: [Emacs-diffs] master 9ce1d38: Use curved quotes in core elisp diagnostics
Date: Tue, 18 Aug 2015 10:34:45 -0700

Bastien wrote:

    Paul Eggert writes:

        Format strings are easier to read and use, particularly by novices, if
        characters typically stand for themselves.

    Did we ever receive a complaint from a novice about `...' readability?

Most novices don't bother to write bug reports -- they don't even know how to write bug reports. But yes, people occasionally gripe about the use of grave accent to quote, and this can hurt Emacs's reputation among people who may not know it better. For example, http://wordyenglish.com/musing/typography.html (2007) says:

"the problem with the GNU is that even today, in 2007, where curly quotes have been widely available in word processors for over a decade (and Unicode have been practical and widely available for at least 5 years...), they are still using plain ASCII hacks. (in general, GNU and the Open Source morons have like a 5 to 10 years lag in adopting technology, for reasons that are inadvertently intentional and or simply incapable)"

And here we are in 2015, with the quote problem still only partly fixed.

Paul Eggert is the author of the famous parser generator yacc . See man yacc, AUTHOR section.

bison, is a yacc copycat for the gnu project, written by Robert Corbett and Richard Stallman.

Stallman haven't coded for like 10 or 20 years, and constantly makes a show of his ignorance now.

The support for curly quotes and auto rendering of `emacs style quote' to single curly quotes

is coded by Eggert. You can see lots of his coding in emacs git. Apparently, after all these years, he still code.

Try it. Alt+x describe-function then type backward-word.

Look at the quote chars. Move cursor to the left of the char and Alt+x describe-char.

Then, jump to the source code and look at the source code.

here's a message that retorts the reason to use unicode chars directly in emacs source:

• Re: [Emacs-diffs] master 9ce1d38: Use curved quotes in core elisp diagno
• From: Dmitry Gutov
• Subject: Re: [Emacs-diffs] master 9ce1d38: Use curved quotes in core elisp diagnostics
• Date: Tue, 18 Aug 2015 23:47:36 +0300


I've read all the reasons against using unicode directly in source code. Most of them are, idiotic.

One simple way to see this is that, in China or Japan, where you have few thousand chars, you use them, without ado.

For Western white men, somehow, there's a sense that ASCII should be the only char used in computer source code. This idea, is held usually by old coders. The millennials, mostly have no problem with NON-ASCII chars. They grew up with it.

Stephen J. Turnbull http://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/emacs-devel/2015-08/msg00676.html

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