New from H&FJ: Whitney Greek & Cyrillic

Typeface: Whitney Multiscript

We’re pleased to introduce Whitney® Greek, Cyrillic, and Multiscript, a new internationalization of our Whitney family for our friends in Greece, Russia, Bulgaria, and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

We’ve taken the fonts that already serve more than 140 languages, and extended them into the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets to satisfy sixty more. Whitney Cyrillic features our new Cyrillic-X™ character set, designed to accommodate not only major Slavic languages such as Russian and Ukrainian, but other important populations less well served by digital typography, like the 65,000,000 people who speak Azeri, Kazakh and Uzbek. For designers whose projects have an international scope — including everyone who needs all three official scripts of the European Union (Latin, Greek, and Bulgarian Cyrillic) — the Whitney Multiscript package integrates these three alphabets into a single set of fonts, across Whitney’s complete range of styles.

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

The World’s Most Perfect Script

Typographically, the Republic of Korea has much to celebrate. The world’s first typefaces cast in metal were made in Korea: a fourteenth century book in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris establishes Korean printing from movable type at least as far back as 1377, though Korean typefounding may date to 1234, some 221 years before Gutenberg. An impediment to early printing was the complexity of Chinese characters, then used to render the Korean language, which further stifled national literacy. But in 1446, an undertaking by King Sejong the Great addressed both problems, through what is surely one of the greatest inventions in the history of typography: the Hangul alphabet. On October 9, Korea celebrates this incredible innovation as Korean Alphabet Day, better known as Hangul Day.

The invention and reform of alphabets has a long tradition, though its efforts are rarely successful. Generally speaking, script systems with highly scientific foundations go completely unrecognized, the typographic equivalent of Esperanto. And among the world’s most successful script systems are some of its most arbitrary: nothing in the design of the Latin A suggests its sound or meaning, and even scripts with pictographic origins such as Chinese are usually abstracted to the point of unrecognizability. But Hangul, Korea’s “Great Script,” is perhaps history’s only effort at alphabet reform that is both scientifically rigorous and universally successful. As a result of careful planning, Hangul is easily learned, comfortably written, and infinitely flexible.

Hangul is comprised of 51 jamo, or phomenic units, whose shapes are highly organized. Simple consonants are linear (ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ), vowels are horizontal or vertical lines (ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅡ, ㅣ), glottalized letters are doubled (ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ), and so on. But more interestingly, Hangul’s characters are featural: their shapes are related to the sounds they symbolize, each representing a different position of the mouth and tongue. Pay attention to the curvature of your lower lip when you form the sounds buh and puh, and you’ll begin to see the logic of Hangul’s B (ㅂ) and P (ㅍ). Notice how your tongue interacts with the roof of your mouth when you say sss and juh, and you’ll understand the design of its S (ㅅ) and J (ㅈ). Hangul’s ability to represent an especially wide range of sounds makes it easy to render loan words from other languages, a challenge in many Asian scripts (but an entertaining hazard to reckless Westerners.) Typographically, I envy my Korean counterparts who get to work with Hangul, with its letterforms that always fit into a square, and can be read in any direction (horizontally or vertically.) And best of all: no kerning! —JH

A Word For That

Typeface: Chronicle Deck Bold Italic

Is that the sound of a designer waiting for Adobe Updater to complete? No, just a brief response to a question on Docs Populi, via Coudal Partners:

“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

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.

Continues…

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

Happy Typographic Holidays

This weekend, many of us celebrated a beloved national holiday. Perhaps you enjoyed a porterhouse steak off the grill, or played touch football with the kids; perhaps the local marching band led your town in a rousing patriotic medley. But amidst the fanfare and the bunting, did you take a moment to reflect on what this holiday was really about? Did you really pause to remember that May 24 was Cyrillic and Glagolitic Alphabet Day?

On Saturday, readers throughout the Slavic world celebrated Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, a bonafide public holiday in Russia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. The holiday honors Cyril and Methodius, the Byzantine brothers whose missions to the Slavs, beginning in AD 862, culminated in the invention of the Glagolitic Alphabet, which was used to render Christian texts in the Old Church Slavonic language. Glagolitic’s sister script, Cyrillic, prevailed during the 13th century, and Peter the Great canonized Cyrillic in essentially its modern form in 1708. Cyrillic has survived largely intact, despite the orthographic reforms and political purges of the last century: among the reforms of 1918 were the deprecation of the yer (ъ), and removal of the yat (ѣ) and izhitsa (ѵ), this last letter rumored to have been used for only two words in the entire Russian language at the time of its expulsion (мѵро, сѵнодъ.) But the issues are deep, and with the dissolusion of the USSR, the story is by no means over: Wikipedia devotes an entire section to the burning issue of Yat-reform.

The celebration of the alphabet is by no means limited to the Slavic world: another nation with great typographic traditions celebrates its own Alphabet Day this fall, and I’m working on the blog post already. I promise to give you a little more notice next time — I know how hard it can be to get those Alphabet Day cards out on time. —JH

The One Ill Building

When I first saw the banner unfurled on Sixth Avenue, I figured The One Ill Building was a Beastie Boys’ foray into urban planning. (Long overdue, if you ask me: if Jade Jagger can be an architect’s muse, why not the King Ad-Rock?) If not a real estate development, then surely theoneillbuilding.com was promoting a documentary about sick building syndrome, narrated by, say, Al Gore.

Turns out it’s neither. So what is The One Ill Building? It’s this, and I feel quite the sucker.

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Adventures in Kerning

For most, travel is about discovering new cultures, exotic foods, and beautiful landscapes. And we’re all for that, certainly. But for type designers, the secret fun of going abroad is watching a new language in action, with its own particular (or peculiar) behavior. In an oft-repeated moment of type geekery, I snapped this street sign in the Gamla Stan area of Stockholm, with its rare “Yx” pair.

Unanticipated, combinations like this can derail the rhythm of a typeface. Kerning can correct it, but only one pair at a time: it’s an exacting and lengthy procedure. To inform that process, one of our behind-the-scenes projects has been to gather spelling oddities from around the world, lest our fonts get stumped by them. (Really, I wasn’t kidding about being a type geek.) I’ve found, among many many others: Kv in Kvivlax, Finland; Qw in Qwilk and Yb in Ybbsbachamt (both in Austria); and Qq in Qquecalane, Chile. And who knows? They might be nice places to visit too. If you’re visiting any of them and encounter any good signs, send us a photo. We’ve already heard from a designer in Vestfjorden, Norway. —TFJ

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