SmartyPants -- Smart quotes plug-in for Movable Type


SmartyPants 1.5.1 (20 KB) — Fri 12 Mar 2004

What’s new?


SmartyPants is a free web publishing plug-in for Movable Type, Blosxom, and BBEdit that easily translates plain ASCII punctuation characters into “smart” typographic punctuation HTML entities.

SmartyPants can perform the following transformations:

  • Straight quotes ( " and ' ) into “curly” quote HTML entities
  • Backticks-style quotes (``like this'') into “curly” quote HTML entities
  • Dashes (“--” and “---”) into en- and em-dash entities
  • Three consecutive dots (“...”) into an ellipsis entity

This means you can write, edit, and save your posts using plain old ASCII straight quotes, plain dashes, and plain dots, but your published posts (and final HTML output) will appear with smart quotes, em-dashes, and proper ellipses.

SmartyPants is a combination plug-in — a single plug-in file that works with Movable Type, Blosxom, and BBEdit. It can also be used from a Unix-style command-line.

SmartyPants does not modify characters within <pre>, <code>, <kbd>, or <script> tag blocks. Typically, these tags are used to display text where smart quotes and other “smart punctuation” would not be appropriate, such as source code or example markup.

Version Requirements

  • Movable Type: 2.5 or later (including Movable Type 3.0)
  • Blosxom: 2.0 or later
  • BBEdit: 5.1 or later
  • Perl: 5.005 or later

MT-Textile Integration

Movable Type users should also note that SmartyPants can work in conjunction with Brad Choate’s MT-Textile plug-in.

MT-Textile is a port of Dean Allen’s original Textile project to Perl and Movable Type. MT-Textile by itself only translates Textile markup to HTML. However, if SmartyPants is also installed, MT-Textile will call on SmartyPants to educate quotes, dashes, and ellipses, automatically. Using SmartyPants in conjunction with MT-Textile requires no modifications to your Movable Type templates.

Textile is Dean Allen’s “humane web text generator”, an easy-to-write and easy-to-read shorthand for writing text for the web. An online Textile web application is available at Mr. Allen’s site.


Installation instructions and documentation are provided in the download package.


Upgrading from any previous version of SmartyPants is easy. Just replace your old “” plug-in file with the new one. You don’t need to change any of your templates to reap the benefits of the numerous bug fixes. (You will need to change your templates, however, if you wish to use the new en- and em-dash shortcut.)


Because proper typographic punctuation looks sharp.

Why Not?

For one thing, you might not care.

Most normal, mentally stable individuals do not take notice of proper typographic punctuation. Many design and typography nerds, however, break out in a nasty rash when they encounter, say, a restaurant sign that uses a straight apostrophe to spell “Joe’s”.

If you’re the sort of person who just doesn’t care, you might well want to continue not caring. Using straight quotes — and sticking to the 7-bit ASCII character set in general — is certainly a simpler way to live.

Even if you do care about accurate typography, you still might want to think twice before educating the quote characters in your weblog. One side effect of publishing curly quote HTML entities is that it makes your weblog a bit harder for others to quote from using copy-and-paste. What happens is that when they copy text from your blog, they copy the 8-bit curly quote characters (as well as the 8-bit characters for em-dashes and ellipses, if you use these options). These characters are not standard across different text encoding methods, which is why they need to be encoded as HTML entities.

People copying text from your weblog, however, may not notice that you’re using curly quotes, and they’ll go ahead and paste the unencoded 8-bit characters copied from their browser into an email message or their own weblog. When pasted as raw “smart quotes”, these characters are likely to get mangled beyond recognition.

That said, my own opinion is that any decent text editor or email client should be able to stupefy smart quote characters into their 7-bit equivalents, and I don’t consider it my problem if you’re using an indecent text editor or email client.

Algorithmic Shortcomings

One situation in which quotes will get curled the wrong way is when apostrophes are used at the start of leading contractions. For example:

	'Twas the night before Christmas.

In the case above, SmartyPants will turn the apostrophe into an opening single-quote, when in fact it should be a closing one. I don’t think this problem can be solved in the general case — every word processor I’ve tried gets this wrong as well. In such cases, it’s best to use the proper HTML entity for closing single-quotes (&#8217; or &rsquo;) by hand, or to use the raw UTF-8 quote character ( ’ ).


If the bug involves quotes being curled the wrong way, please send example text to illustrate.

See Also

This plug-in effectively obsoletes the technique documented here.

However, the above instructions may still be of interest if for some reason you are still running an older version of Movable Type.

Version History

1.5.1: Fri 12 Mar 2004

  • Fixed a goof where if you had SmartyPants 1.5.0 installed, but didn’t have Markdown installed, when SmartyPants checked for Markdown’s presence, it created a blank entry in MT’s global hash of installed text filters. This showed up in MT’s Text Formatting pop-up menu as a blank entry.

1.5: Tue 9 Mar 2004

  • SmartyPants now features automatic integration with Markdown, my new text formatting plug-in. If Markdown and SmartyPants are both installed as Movable Type plug-ins, SmartyPants will add a new global text filter, “Markdown With Smartypants”.

  • Preliminary command-line options parsing. See the POD documentation for details, if you're into this sort of thing.

  • dot-space-dot-space-dot now counts as an ellipsis. This is the style used by Project Gutenberg:
    (Thanks to Fred Condo for the patch.)

  • Added <math> to the list of tags to skip (pre, code, etc.).

1.4.1: Sat 8 Nov 2003

  • The bug fix from 1.4 for dashes followed by quotes with no intervening spaces now actually works.

  • “&nbsp;” now counts as whitespace where necessary. (Thanks to Greg Knauss for the patch.)

1.4: Mon 30 Jun 2003

  • Improved the HTML tokenizer so that it will parse nested <> pairs up to five levels deep. Previously, it only parsed up to two levels. What we *should* do is allow for any arbitrary level of nesting, but to do so, we would need to use Perl’s ?? construct (see Fried’s “Mastering Regular Expressions”, 2nd Ed., pp. 328-331), and sadly, this would only work in Perl 5.6 or later. SmartyPants still supports Perl 5.00503. I suppose we could test for the version and build a regex accordingly, but I don’t think I want to maintain two separate patterns.

  • Thanks to Stepan Riha, the tokenizer now handles HTML comments:

    <!-- comment -->

    and PHP-style processor instructions:

    <?php code ?>
  • The quote educator now handles situations where dashes are used without whitespace, e.g.:

    "dashes"--without spaces--"are tricky"
  • Special case for decade abbreviations like this: the ’80s. This only works for the sequence apostrophe-digit-digit-s.

1.3: Wed 14 May 2003

  • Plugged the biggest hole in SmartyPants’s smart quotes algorithm. Previous versions were hopelessly confused by single-character quote tokens, such as:


    The problem was that the EducateQuotes() function works on each token separately, with no means of getting surrounding context from the previous or next tokens. The solution is to curl these single-character quote tokens as a special case, before calling EducateQuotes().

  • New single-quotes backtick mode for smarty_pants attribute. The only way to turn it on is to include “B” in the configuration string, e.g. to translate backtick quotes, dashes, and ellipses:

  • Fixed a bug where an opening quote would get curled the wrong way if the quote started with three dots, e.g.:

  • Fixed a bug where opening quotes would get curled the wrong way if there were double sets of quotes within each other, e.g.:

    <p>"'Some' people."</p>
  • Due to popular demand, four consecutive dots (....) will now be turned into an ellipsis followed by a period. Previous versions would turn this into a period followed by an ellipsis. If you really want a period-then-ellipsis sequence, escape the first period with a backslash: \....

  • Removed “&” from our home-grown punctuation class, since it denotes an entity, not a literal ampersand punctuation character. This fixes a bug where SmartyPants would mis-curl the opening quote in something like this:

  • SmartyPants has always had a special case where it looks for “'s” in situations like this:

    <i>Custer</i>'s Last Stand

    This special case is now case-insensitive.

1.2.2: Thu Mar 13, 2003

  • 1.2.1 contained a boneheaded addition which prevented SmartyPants from compiling under Perl 5.005. This has been remedied, and is the only change from 1.2.1.

1.2.1: Tue Mar 11, 2003

  • New “stupefy mode” for smarty_pants attribute. If you set


    SmartyPants will perform reverse transformations, turning HTML entities into plain ASCII equivalents. E.g. curly quotes are turned into a simple double-quote ("), “—” is turned into two dashes, etc. This is useful if you are using SmartyPants from Brad Choate’s MT-Textile text filter, but wish to suppress smart punctuation in specific MT templates, such as RSS feeds. Text filters do their work before templates are processed; but you can use smarty_pants="-1" to reverse the transformations in specific templates.

  • Replaced the POSIX-style regex character class [:punct:] with an ugly hard-coded normal character class of all punctuation; POSIX classes require Perl 5.6 or later, but SmartyPants still supports back to 5.005.

  • Several small changes to allow SmartyPants to work when Blosxom is running in static mode.

1.2: Thu Feb 27, 2003

  • SmartyPants is now a combination plug-in, supporting both Movable Type (2.5 or later) and Blosxom (2.0 or later). It also works as a BBEdit text filter and standalone command-line Perl program. Thanks to Rael Dornfest for the initial Blosxom port (and for the excellent Blosxom plug-in API).

  • SmartyPants now accepts the following backslash escapes, to force non-smart punctuation. It does so by transforming the escape sequence into a decimal-encoded HTML entity:

    Escape  Value  Character
    ------  -----  ---------
      \\    \    \
      \"    "    "
      \'    '    '
      \.    .    .
      \-    -    -
      \`    `    `

    Note that this could produce different results than previous versions of SmartyPants, if for some reason you have an entry containing one or more of these sequences. (Thanks to Charles Wiltgen for the suggestion.)

  • Added a new option to support inverted en- and em-dash notation: “--” for em-dashes, “---” for en-dashes. This is compatible with SmartyPants’ original “--” syntax for em-dashes, but also allows you to specify en-dashes. It can be invoked by using smart_dashes="3", smarty_pants="3", or smarty_pants="i". (Suggested by Aaron Swartz.)

  • Added a new option to automatically convert &quot; entities into regular double-quotes before educating quotes. This is mainly for the benefit of people who write posts using Dreamweaver, which substitutes this entity for any literal quote char. The one and only way to invoke this option is to use the letter shortcuts for the smarty_pants attribute; the shortcut for this option is “w” (for Dream_w_eaver). (Suggested by Jonathon Delacour.)

  • Added <script> to the list of tags in which SmartyPants doesn’t touch the contents.

  • Fixed a very subtle bug that would occur if a quote was the very last character in a body of text, preceded immediately by a tag. Lacking any context, previous versions of SmartyPants would turn this into an opening quote mark. It’s now correctly turned into a closing one.

  • Opening quotes were being curled the wrong way when the subsequent character was punctuation. E.g.: “a '.foo' file”. Fixed.

  • New MT global template tag: <$MTSmartyPantsVersion$>. Prints the version number of SmartyPants, e.g. “1.2”.

1.1: Wed Feb 5, 2003

  • The smart_dashes template attribute now offers an option to use “--” for en dashes, and “---” for em dashes.

  • The default smart_dashes behavior now simply translates “—” (dash dash) into an em-dash. Previously, it would look for “ — ” (space dash dash space), which was dumb, since many people do not use spaces around their em dashes.

  • Using the smarty_pants attribute with a value of “2” will do the same thing as smarty_pants="1", with one difference: it will use the new shortcuts for en- and em-dashes.

  • Closing quotes (single and double) were incorrectly curled in situations like this:


    where the comma could be just about any punctuation character. Fixed.

  • Added <kbd> to the list of tags in which text shouldn’t be educated.

1.0: Wed Nov 13, 2002

Initial release.

Additional Credits

Portions of this plug-in are based on Brad Choate’s nifty MTRegex plug-in. Brad Choate also contributed a few bits of source code to this plug-in. Brad Choate is a fine hacker indeed.

Jeremy Hedley and Charles Wiltgen deserve mention for exemplary beta testing.

Rael Dornfest ported SmartyPants to Blosxom.

Don Haring, Jr. drew the SmartyPants mascot.

Copyright © 2003 John Gruber.
All rights reserved.

Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

  • Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

  • Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.

  • Neither the name “SmartyPants” nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.

This software is provided by the copyright holders and contributors “as is” and any express or implied warranties, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose are disclaimed. In no event shall the copyright owner or contributors be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, exemplary, or consequential damages (including, but not limited to, procurement of substitute goods or services; loss of use, data, or profits; or business interruption) however caused and on any theory of liability, whether in contract, strict liability, or tort (including negligence or otherwise) arising in any way out of the use of this software, even if advised of the possibility of such damage.

Copyright © 2004 John Gruber.