Daggers & Crosses

nina's picture

About the dagger:

1) Why is it full-height in so many fonts? Aren't daggers mostly used for footnote references (along with the the asterisk and double dagger)? So if it's going to be "superscripted" anyway, why not make it like that from the start, like the asterisk?

2) The only use I know for a full-height dagger is when people use it to mean that somebody is dead (a usage that Bringhurst limits to European typography). But then, they'd actually want a cross, not a dagger (one would hope!). So, does that effectively preclude all-too-pictorial renditions of daggers as shown in this older thread (scroll down to 2 April)?

Basically, I'm wondering if I can get away with a superscript dagger that looks a bit more like a dagger than a cross, or if I'd have to "neuter" it so that it can pose as a cross; and/or include an additional (full-height) cross. Opinions?

cuttlefish's picture

A puzzling conundrum indeed. Certainly in a text font you'd want to superscript the daggers. The total height would probably be more than an asterisk since there is less to them visually. But for a display font, pretty much anything goes. Like so many things, it comes down to what the font is meant to be used for.

ebensorkin's picture

The reason is that sometimes the dagger is not used in it's super script form. For example if you use a dagger in tables you probabaly wouldn't - for the same reason you usually don't use old style figures in a table. You also would not want to superscript at very small sizes.

If you did design your unicode glyph dagger for superscript then undoing that so that the dagger can be used like a lining figure would be much harder than making it super script either manually or by using included super script functions that many programs offer. So unless you have a client that specifically uses their dagger in just one way I don't think deciding to make your dagger in a superscript size is a good idea.

Thinking about the case of numbers numerals (or ciphers as I discovered they are sometimes called) as an example, ideally you do have real superscript numbers in a font. And some fonts do. Also, there are unicode positions for superior 12 & 3, and for inferior points for all (1234567890), So similarly there could theoretically be a a unicode point for a super script dagger but because the dagger is rarely used it suspect it isn't enough of a burning issue for anyone for such a unicode code point to be added.

That doesn't have to stop you however. On the contrary! If a user wanted a quickly accessed and specifically designed dagger that was optically correct in it's details rather than one that was scaled, then when you build the font you could add the dagger unicode point to the set of glyphs normally included (unicode numbers) when you use the ORDN (Ordinals) feature, and/or SUPS ( Superscript) feature. This would give you fast access. This is not the only way to do it but it is the way that makes the most sense to me at this point. This is how some fonts let you type unlikely fractions such as 4/8.

If you wanted access in a program that doesn't have ORDN etc, but does support another feature then you could misuse a feature like CALT and type † and a code like 'su' (†su) and, hey presto! Then again to save time it would actually it would be easier to type '*t' or some combination on the keyboard.

A bit of trivia coutesy of Phil Baines’ Typo Quiz at St. Brides I attended recently:

On a cricket scorecard or team list, the dagger indicates the team's wicket-keeper. Notice that it is full height:

Bendy's picture

From the decode unicode site, dagger is U+2020 whilst latincross is at U+271d. I guess ideally they should be distinct.

nina's picture

Wow, thanks much for the replies.

Jason, yes it is a text font. For shortish text (not books), but text alright. Though a display version may follow.
I'm currently trying to think of what kind of glyphs I'd want in there (and usually miss), which among others (like a number of arrows) brought up the issue of the "superscript" dagger, which I've only found in one or two fonts so far.

Eben, thanks for pointing out more "full-height" uses of the dagger. (Unfortunately I can't access the first [image] link you posted*, but I'll just believe you ;-).)
So in that case I guess it would make the most sense to make a full-height dagger, and probably even make it the default? But I'd definitely like to include the other one too; the SUPS sounds like a good idea. (Is that activated when somebody presses the "Superscript" button in InDesign, or would they have to access some obscure OT feature?)
Well at the very least, I'd like to make it accessible as an alternate form in the glyph palette, via that little triangular arrow. (That's made via SALT I believe?)

* Although it would be interesting to know if cricket (which I know absolutely nothing about) has a preference for cross-shaped daggers, or if dagger-shaped daggers would work as well? ;)

I just ran across another point that might be justifying a full-height dagger, on the decode-unicode site: When the dagger is used as a footnote reference, these people say it will only be superscripted in the text, but then in the footnote itself (much like with numeric footnote references) it will be full-height. Which I'd expect would make the asterisk look really weird, though, because I have never in my life seen a full-height asterisk, so it can't follow the same treatment.

Ben: That is interesting – I didn't know there's a separate codepoint for the cross. I'm kind of reluctant to make that one though, at least not if I don't also make U+2670 West Syriac Cross, U+2626 Orthodox Cross, U+262A Star and Crescent, U+2721 Star of David &c.! There are limits to my glyph-lust. ;-)
I guess it's going to be an agnostic font.

Bendy's picture

Hmm, I'd just made a full-height asterisk as an interesting kind of ornamenty bullet thing. ;)

nina's picture

OK, nevermind: U+273B ✻ looks full-height alright…!


Bendy's picture

Smashing! It has a codepoint too!

(Have you been looking at every shape in Unicode?) :O

nina's picture

Ben, do a search for "asterisk" at decode-unicode. You will be scared!

"Have you been looking at every shape in Unicode?"
Well, it IS a long weekend over here. But not quite that long. :)

Maybe this is a bit too detailed now? I admit I got a bit carried away. (I'm posting the image also as a basis for the question if this dagger is too "dagger-like" that I wouldn't also need a cross. I admit this question did not go away when I last tried to answer it.)
Still working on the full-height one (should it be on the same width as the numbers BTW? Since Eben mentioned it being used with numbers, in tables.)

ebensorkin's picture

As far as the example goes, I would find that design too distracting.

Are you making tabular numbers? Are you making the asterisk tabular? If so why? This idea isn't thought through so take it with a grain of salt, but you might look at making half tabular width symbols asterisk etc so you can put two next to numbers in the same space as a single number in a table

But whatever you do, test and ground it in realistic plausible use. Otherwise the risk that you are wasting time will be too high.

nina's picture

Thanks for your feed-back, Eben. Hm, I guess I'll rethink that dagger some more.

To be honest, I haven't thought about the width of the asterisk with regard to the tabular numbers (which I am making) – that's an interesting thought!
If I make the asterisk, and the dagger, half the width of the tabular numbers, I guess I would also need some sort of half-figure space?

dezcom's picture

I would make it the size people expect it to be rather than trying to second guess what users might do. Users have work flows which deal with different fonts in similar ways. That way, if you change fonts, you don't have to go back and resize daggers or whatever else.


ebensorkin's picture

Sometimes you can add modular functionality as well but I wouldn't insist on it. If you can show yourself ( and others!) how it would be used & why it is useful then go for it. But this idea is definitely not a standard by any means.

It is also true that for tables sometime people modify fonts so that they have zero em width %, *, ⁂ etc that don't reflow the table. That may be a better model for tables than half tabular widths. And that is a custom rather than off the shelf font market. And yes those custom fonts do use half tabular width spaces and half tabular dollar and other monetary symbols. You are thinking in the right way. Notice too though what a specific use such a font must have. It is really only useful in specific places.

But all of this is just a long way of saying - Chris is right about making things look right first.

nina's picture

Thanks for the input guys. Chris, that's a point that's hard to argue with. :-\

Eben, re the numerals and such, I see I'll need to think about this some more and figure out a good strategy (departing from target usage of the font). I'm realizing that I'm surprisingly insecure with all these little details.

BTW, ⁂ U+2042 asterism: What a cool glyph (with a cool name too). Would the one with 2 stars matter as well (⁑ U+2051)? I've seen it used even less often than the one with 3 stars, but it seems like a logical companion.

ebensorkin's picture

It is a cool name, I agree.

Most of these glyphs are used very very rarely. It is fun to make them because you can and they are interesting to learn about but as a practical matter you are probably better served as a designer and business making the key glyphs really really good. Then somebody may be will to pay extra for the extras. As you see more and more how things are used ( & not used much anymore in some cases ) you will become more secure about them. I say this as somebody who is learning this bit by bit as well.

JCSalomon's picture

The standard asterisk &c. in fonts I've seen are usually not quite at the height you’d expect from footnote characters. Compare: ¹*²†³‡⁴ vs. 1*2†3‡4; Georgia puts them at an in-between height, but other fonts have full-height versions. Probably it helps that programming languages use * for multiplication in place of × (or better, U+2217 ∗).


ebensorkin's picture

nice observation! thanks!

Birdseeding's picture

Another use for the full-height dagger is in the vitally important field of mushroom guide typography, where it denotates "poisonous". Two daggers denotate "lethally poisonous".

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