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A markup language is an artificial language using a set of annotations to text that describe how text is to be structured, laid out, or formatted. Markup languages have been in use for centuries, and in recent years have also been used in computer typesetting and word-processing systems.

A well-known example of a markup language in use today in computing is HyperText Markup Language (HTML), one of the most used in the World Wide Web. HTML follows some of the markup conventions used in the publishing industry in the communication of printed work between authors, editors, and printers.


The term markup is derived from the traditional publishing practice of "marking up"' a manuscript, which involves adding symbolic printer's instructions in the margins of a paper manuscript. For centuries, this task was done primarily by skilled typographers known as "markup men"[1] who marked up text to indicate what typeface, style, and size should be applied to each part, and then passed the manuscript to others for typesetting by hand. Markup was also commonly applied by editors, proofreaders, and graphic designers.


The idea of markup languages was apparently first presented by publishing executive William W. Tunnicliffe at a conference in 1967, although he preferred to call it "generic coding." Tunnicliffe would later lead the development of a standard called GenCode for the publishing industry. Book designer Stanley Fish also published speculation along similar lines in the late 1960s. Brian Reid, in his 1980 dissertation at Carnegie Mellon University, developed the theory and a working implementation of descriptive markup in actual use. However, IBM researcher Charles Goldfarb is more commonly seen today as the "father" of markup languages, because of his work on IBM GML, and then as chair of the International Organization for Standardization committee that developed SGML, the first widely used descriptive markup system. Goldfarb hit upon the basic idea while working on an early project to help a newspaper computerize its work flow, although the published record does not clarify when. He later became familiar with the work of Tunnicliffe and Fish, and heard an early talk by Reid that further sparked his interest.

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  1. Allan Woods, Modern Newspaper Production (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 85; Stewart Harral, Profitable Public Relations for Newspapers (Ann Arbor: J.W. Edwards, 1957), 76; and Chiarella v. United States, 445 US 222 (1980).
Legacy "trunk"
Preceded by
Markup Followed by