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I've never seen these characters before and never seen them in action either.

Does anybody know what they are and what they're used for?

Maybe somebody has this drop of trivia lying around...

Option+Shift+6

Option+Shift+5

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P.S. Google reads them as fi and fl (two separate characters), it's a great pain to find the answer in the search results. –  henryaaron May 13 at 20:15
    
Google reads them as two separate characters because they are two separate characters… imagine how bad it would be to copy/paste find or find from a website and getting two different pages of results… –  ghoppe May 13 at 20:36
    
@ghoppe They are actually one character when input, but Google converts them to the two character equivalent, because single characters for these things are not supposed to be used any more. –  Tom Gewecke May 13 at 20:53

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

These are U+fb01 and fb02, Latin Small Ligature Fl and Fi. They are in Unicode really only because they were contained in legacy 8 bit character sets like MacRoman, but should no longer be used for anything. In modern technology such ligatures are created by fonts on the basis of the underlying codes for the separate characters, which is what should aways be input in place of option shift 5/6.

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They are called ligatures and they are from the days of metal typesetting. 2 letters that commonly occurred together would be forged as one piece of metal type. Nowadays on the computer, they are sometimes included in fonts, in order to make a more pleasing letter group. They are not special characters, really it is just supposed to be letters f and i drawn together.

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3  
Actually, ligatures weren't invented with metal type, they have been around since the development of writing. Sumerian cuneiform had ligatures. Hand-written manuscripts used many ligatures including et (latin for and) which developed into the ampersand &. –  ghoppe May 13 at 20:45

The search tern to use is ligature

fl and fi are ligatures i.e. the two characters are joined together as one thing (Wikipedia says glyph). This is just how typesetters think make the text look better so is a design idea makes fl look better that fl and fi better than fi

The only thing I have seemed them used for explicitly is the abbreviation for florin fl which used to be the Dutch currency.

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To my knowledge, the fl used for florin is the separate characters and not the one discussed here, which is not present in the standard Windows 8 bit charset. –  Tom Gewecke May 13 at 20:50

They are U+FB02 LATIN SMALL LIGATURE FL and U+FB01 LATIN SMALL LIGATURE FI, which are ligatures encoded as separate characters. According the Unicode FAQ on ligatures, they “exist basically for compatibility and round-tripping with non-Unicode character sets” and “Their use is discouraged.” However, in many contexts, they are the only way to get such ligatures.

Advanced rendering software may be able to map character pairs like “fi” and “fl”, written using normal Ascii characters, to ligature glyphs, usually depending on software settings. However, most text editors and word processors cannot handle that.

Depending on font, you might have good reasons for using ligatures. In some fonts, e.g. an “fi” combination looks bad (maybe with the “f” almost hitting the dot of “i”), unless a ligature is used.

Yet, keyboard shortcuts for the ligature characters are not very useful. If you decide to use such characters, it is usually better to type the text normally, then run a global replace where e.g. “fi” and “fl” (and maybe “ffi” and “ffl”) are changed to ligature characters.

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I think there could also a good reason not to use such characters, namely to keep your text searchable. –  Tom Gewecke May 13 at 21:23
    
@TomGewecke On my computer ⌘F fi finds both and ⌘F fi finds both –  henryaaron May 14 at 0:32
    
What happens when you search for just f? Do you find the ligature characters fl and fi? –  Tom Gewecke May 14 at 0:53
    
@TomGewecke apparently not –  henryaaron May 15 at 0:32

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