30 March, 2009
Laminitis, or English As She Is Drawn
Typeface: Mercury Text Grade 3
Some would argue for Bleak House, others Middlemarch. The Great Gatsby has its proponents as well, along with Lolita and Heart of Darkness. But for me, it is none of these: there is a clear winner in the category, a single book that is the finest work of literature written in the English language. It is English As She Is Spoke, an 1853 phrasebook by Pedro Carolino, offered to Portuguese speakers as a guide to the English language. Uniquely, Carolino spoke not a word of English, and was not possessed of an English-Portuguese dictonary.
He overcame this disadvantage through the clever combination of a Portuguese-French dictionary and a French-English one, through which the entire corpus of English idioms was dragged, backwards, screaming. Thanks to Carolino, Portuguese readers of the nineteenth century might have learned such workaday English expressions as "to look for a needle in a hay bundle" and "the stone as roll not heap up foam." Other timeless chestnuts include "take out the live coals with the hand of the cat," "he has fond the knuckle of the business," "he has a good beak," and, bewilderingly, "to craunch the marmoset." Mark Twain said of the book, "Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect." Twain wrote the introduction to the American edition, which was first published in 1883 and has remained in print ever since. It is a classic.
Our industry's standard-bearer seems to have gotten the Carolino treatment this morning. This profile of Matthew Carter that ran in the Washington Post has somehow found its way into and out of another language, presumably courtesy of some cruelly indifferent software. Of the craft of type design, our subject is quoted as saying, "the options are rattlingly limited. I can't determine one forenoon I'm fatigued of the 'b' and I'm attending redesign it from excoriation. There holds defeat and captivation." (What type designer has not experienced this?) Pay special attention to the passage in which Carter designs "the lowercase hydrogen," whose ascender, of course, distinguishes it from the lowercase nitrogen.
Tobias and I were honored to offer up an encomium or two. "He holds the footing to be sort of haughty or elitist," says Tobias, "but that ne'er haps to him." And I obligingly identified Matthew as "the bozo who formulated brown." But in any language, I think we all agree that Matthew Carter is "the Jehovah of Georgia." —JH
16 July, 2008
A Word For That
Typeface: Chronicle Deck Bold Italic
“What does one call the use of random non-alphabet characters to indicate cursing? It’s a universally understood device, and is applied in both graphic and textual settings. It is such a commonly accepted staple that I assumed it must already be defined and described — but apparently it’s not.”
But it is! The term is grawlix, and it looks to have been coined by Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker around 1964. Though it’s yet to gain admission to the Oxford English Dictionary, OED Editor-at-Large Jesse Sheidlower describes it as “undeniably useful, certainly a word, and one that I’d love to see used more.” As the author of the grawlixy compendium The F-Word, Sheidlower’s perspective is unique — and unassailable, if you’re wise, since he and his cronies have the power to immortalize naysayers as expletives themselves. (Don’t laugh: such was the fate of philistine Thomas Bowdler, miser Charles Boycott, and jingoist Nicolas Chauvin, to say nothing of famous typeface designer James W. Scumbag.)
Until its OED entry is solemnized, we’ll have to settle for this definition on Wiktionary: “grawlix, n. A string of typographical symbols used (especially in comic strips) to represent an obscenity or swear word.” I don’t think I’ll ever look at a character set quite the same way again. —JH
10 July, 2008
The Oxford English Dictionary in Limerick Form
Nineteen years of designing typefaces has amply proven H&FJ’s Third Law, which states that for every act of exhaustive research, there is an equal and opposite act of total silliness. This principle extends from typography into other disciplines as well: behold — no kidding — the Oxford English Dictionary in Limerick Form.
Precisely the kind of project that the internet was made for, the OEDILF (stop snickering!) has brought together contributors from around the globe for the purpose of rendering every entry in the world’s most famous dictionary into a-a-b-b-a form. The fascicle A-Cr is well underway, with 45,297 entries so far, making this a site you don’t want to stumble upon when you’re up against a deadline.
As if the premise wasn’t ridiculous enough, many contributors have...Continues...
16 June, 2008
The Living Glagolitic
Last month’s post about Cyrillic and Glagolitic Alphabet Day prompted some great responses from our Croatian colleagues, where the Glagolitic alphabet, a national treasure, lives on. Vjeran Andrašić wrote from the island of Krk, home to some of Croatia’s most significant Glagolitic inscriptions, and this morning I learned of this marvelous Glagolitic font, made by designer Nikola Djurek during his time at the Type & Media program at KABK in Den Haag.
Many of the world’s less common alphabets have been rendered digitally by enthusiastic philologists, but it’s refreshing to see one that’s been so expertly made by a trained professional. And kudos to Nikola not only for presenting his work in an intellectually substantial context, but for offering to share the font with interested scholars! —JH