An Old Irish Script Based Upon Carved Stone Notches and Spaces That Presented a Big Unicode Problem

In a lexemic episode of “Things You Might Not Know” taken on location at the British Museum, host Tom Scott explains how the medieval Irish language of Ogham used notches carved into stones in order to communicate. While the notches did the main communication, the spaces in between also played a significant role. When it came time for Ogham to be entered into the Unicode Standard, however, these spaces presented a big problem as the space wasn’t really a space even though it was a space.

But until Ogham was added to Unicode, the rule that a space character must be empty had never been broken. Why would it? It’s a space. Well, an Ogham space includes that stemline. The line doesn’t stop between words, because the corner doesn’t stop between words. The space is not a space… Ogham is the only case where modern folks have gone, yeah, okay, it’s a space that also involves drawing something. It’s a space that isn’t a space.