On the etymology of 'Unicode'

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/02/25 15:58 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2007/02/25/1758957.aspx


John Cowan's question about Unicode was a deceptively simple one that many people have likely wondered about in the past:

What's the etymology of "Unicode"?  Does the prefix represent unity
or uniformity?

It is the sort of thing that of course there were many opinions about. Mark Davis (president of Unicode) responded earliest and most amusingly:

Attested as far back as Gaius Plinius Caecilius Tertius, apparently derived from Indo-European *oino-kau-do ("one strike give"), *kau being related to such English words as: hew, haggle, hoe, hag, hay, hack, caudad, caudal, caudate, caudex, coda, codex, codicil, coward, incus. (I like the association with "haggle" myself.)

Mark

And Michael Everson responded "Universal".

While Jonathan Rosenne asked more cautiously "wasn't it unification?"

James Opstad volunteered:

Joe Becker came up with the term. I believe he intended it to mean "unified
encoding" but with echoes of "unique", but he can provide further
explication.

And Ken Whistler (the cool uncle of Unicode) suggested:

You'll have to ask Joe Becker for what all went into his
thinking about it, but I believe it is and was deliberately
ambiguous. The etymology is "uni-" + "code", with the
intent of "uni-" being to denote "one", and to connote
"unity", "uniformity", and "universality".

To which Asmus Freytag added:

as well as "unified" and "unique". Unified as in han-unification, for
example, and unique as in the ideal of having only one encoding and one
encoded value for each character..

There were a few distractions about UNIVAC and a Universal Telegraphic Phrase Book, and the father of Unicode (Joe Becker) responded rather quickly with the official answer, quoting a very old communication:

>From the archive:
--------------------------------
@Sender: Joseph D. Becker:OSBU North:Xerox
Date:  4 Dec 91 18:46:17 PST (Wednesday)
...
    Unique
    Nice
    International
    Consistent
    Official
    Desirable
    Encoding
...
Joe
--------------------------------

Then adding (in response to the many other posts):

... based on my recollection, from the ancient "Starving Students Handbook", of:
    The Perfect Meatloaf Recipe
      1. Serve the meatloaf
      2. Ask your guests what they think is in it
      3. Agree with anything they say

Nuff said? :-)

I will have to remember that meatloaf recipe, it reminds me in reverse about a serving of rattlesnake a few years back (a story for another day, perhaps)....


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