This page describes notation conventions used in Emacs documentation. The EmacsManual provides a page of notation conventions but it does not cover everything.

Backtick-Apostrophe Notation: `...'

Emacs documentation abounds with short phrases, usually command names (e.g., ‘next-line’) and key sequences (e.g. ‘C-x 4 f’), that are enclosed by two marks. See EmacsKeyNotation for more about the notation for key sequences.

The opening mark is accent grave or backtick (`). The ending mark is an apostrophe ('). The origins of this convention are uncertain, but an inquiry on the email list: help-gnu-emacs@gnu.org yielded these suggestions and ideas

  1. It is used by Texinfo for symbols in programming languages. Note the printed manuals simply use a monospace font.
  2. In a font used originally, these two characters (`, ') were single quotes with curves inward. That is, they were symmetrical. Nowadays, the second of these (apostrophe) is typically vertical, not curved or slanted.
  3. It was used to mark italics

Discussion of `...' Notation

The `...' notation dates from plain text-only communication: email etc. Keep in mind that Emacs still is mainly a plain-text editor. It still uses mainly fixed-width fonts by default, because it is mainly used with code, by programmers. The `...' convention is simple and clear. It is also easy to parse, and hence highlight – as is done on ThisWiki, for instance. – DrewAdams

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