The Evil Entity

I want better HTML character entities. Or rather, better rendering of the entities we already have. I want ' to produce a proper, curly apostrophe instead of the dull and incorrect ' we get now, and I want IE to support it too (if you’re using IE you probably see the unrendered entity, or if you’re lucky a question mark to indicate the browser’s cartoonish confusion, like Popeye operating a microwave).

Three single end quotes, which appear similar to the numerals 666 invertedAs it is, we usually resort to ’ to get something that looks like a curly apostrophe. A right single quote — more correctly a “single end quote” — is plainly not an apostrophe, even if they do look identical. Using the wrong character in the wrong place is just fundamentally, well, wrong, and it violates my idealistic desire for markup purity. It makes me feel icky.

So what’s the big deal? Aren’t a single end quote and an apostrophe really the same character (in most web-ready fonts, anyway) when you get right down to brass pixels? Perhaps my objection isn’t to the character itself, but to the HTML named entity “’“, an abbreviation of “right single quote” which lingers in my document source, mocking me, flaunting its wrongness. A while back I decided to start using the entity number (’) instead of the entity name, just to take the edge off slightly, to sublimate that wrongness (as a side benefit it’s also a bit more consistently supported in older browsers). But the wrongness is still there in the back of my mind, festering, rasping, gnawing through the wires and making the place smell of burnt hair and cabbage.

Yet I demand at least the semblance of curly apostrophes, and refuse to use straight ones if I have anything to say about it. A straight quote/apostrophe indicates a measurement in feet, double straight quotes are inches. My pedantic skin is crawling even referring to them as “straight quotes” for explanatory reasons (they’re actually slanted right in some typefaces, vertical in others). They are properly called single prime and double prime, or, in a pinch, “foot mark” and “inch mark” but that’s seriously pushing it. Those symbols are simply not an acceptable substitute for correct punctuation.

But for all my persnickity fulminations about correct quotes, I easily let it slide when it comes to writing code. I feel not the slightest twinge or pang when “double quoting” my attribute values in XHTML, for example. In code, script or markup (the three are different classes of computer language, but that’s the subject of another post) I’m quite happy to use the same generic character to mark both the beginning and ending of a value or string. It could just as easily be ^ or * or |, the choice of false quotes is arbitrary in my book.

The solution to the curly apostrophe issue in rendered HTML is simple. We already have the ' entity, ' if you prefer). It’s well supported, just not drawn the right way. So how about it, browser makers of the world? I’ll let you keep " for displaying code in a web document, it’ll just be up to us to rap the knuckles of any web developers using it in place of “ and ”. But please give me curly apostrophes so I can make it through ridiculous phrases like “He’s prob’ly thinkin’, ‘I’m 6'4"'” without an apoplectic fit.