[texhax] European quotation marks

Uwe Lück uwe.lueck at web.de
Fri May 1 13:01:17 CEST 2009

At 18:07 10.04.09, Philip TAYLOR (Ret'd) wrote:
>Just a suggestion (and not necessary), but why not give the glyphs their 
>correct name ? They are guillemets (glyphs), not guillemots (birds) ! ** Phil.

According to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillemets, Adobe Systems Inc. confesses 
to have initiated this mistake in the world of computer typesetting. An 
edit of April 11 has removed the speculation that it is too late to undo 
the mistake concerning compatibility, as it is so widely spreaded now.

I suspected german.sty had brought it into TeX, it has `guillemot' as part 
of control sequences. The documentation, however, says `guillemets'. 
Inspector Taylor, would you please arrest Bernd Raichle and hear him?

On the other hand, the German Wikipeda names "Möwchen" ("little seagulls") 
as a synonym in typography. I guess this is because they rather look like 
$\prec$ than like $<$, and rotating $\prec$ leftwards looks like the way of 
representing one of countless birds in the sky on simple drawings (as in 

So my impression is that the "seabirds" thing is not so wrong. Note as well 
that they are also called "Gänsefüßchen" (little goose feet) in German.

Rather, the epistemology of "guillemets" according to Wikipedia has much of 
an "origin myth" in my view. It is attributed to a printer and punchcutter 
*Guillaume le Bé*, 1525--1598, while the first known guillemets date from 
1527. The German Wikipedia says that according to a handbook on French 
indeed some "Guilleaume" used guillemets in 1527 (mastery giftedness often 
becomes apparent in childhood already). According to the French Wikipedia, 
that "Guillaume" florished in the 17th century. The German Wikipedia 
continues speculating that the term "guillemet" developped from something 
like "Guillaume maître" or "Guillaume mett..." ... (The German article on 
Guillaume le Bé instead says that "Guillaume" means "Little William".)

Cheers! ("Prösterchen")


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