JUST HIS TYPE.

Simon Garfield has a nice piece in the Guardian Observer (extracted from his Just My Type: A Book about Fonts) on the history of typefaces and how they’re used; it starts with an appalling anecdote about a woman in New Zealand who was fired for sending an e-mail in ALL CAPS. (Spoiler: She appealed successfully for unfair dismissal.) If you like type, it’s a good read. Thanks for the link, AJP!

Comments

  1. I used to wonder why some people commented on blogs etc. in all caps; then I found someone explaining that she did it because she typed with one finger and the shift key was too much trouble — I’ll bet she’s not the only one. But it would be easier on the eyes if such people chose all lowercase instead; weirdly, I’ve never seen a single all-lowercase comment that I recall.

  2. Arnold Zwicky, among others, normally sends all-lower-case emails, though his Language Log postings are normally cased.
    From the Jargon File:
    Great Runes: n.
    Uppercase-only text or display messages. Some archaic operating systems still emit these. See also runes, smash case, fold case.
    There is a widespread legend (repeated by earlier versions of this entry, though tagged as folklore) that the uppercase-only support of various old character codes and I/O equipment was chosen by a religious person in a position of power at the Teletype Company because supporting both upper and lower cases was too expensive and supporting lower case only would have made it impossible to spell ‘God’ correctly. Not true; the upper-case interpretation of teleprinter codes was well established by 1870, long before Teletype was even founded.
    It is true, however, that lower case Latin is more readable than upper case Latin in normal fonts, because of the greater varieties of ascenders and descenders.

  3. rootlesscosmo says:

    I found the movie “Helvetica”
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0847817/
    smart and good to look at.

  4. weirdly, I’ve never seen a single all-lowercase comment that I recall.
    Language fixes them up before publication.

  5. From the Guardian article: Even with this distinction, the compositor would still have to “mind their ps and qs”, so alike were they when each letter was dismantled from a block of type and then tossed back into the compartments of a tray.
    For some reason I can’t fathom, the “ps” and “qs” worry me. I suppose I’ve never seen the expression in print before. Technically it shouldn’t be “p’s” and “q’s” (I think). Perhaps “Mind your Ps and Qs” would satisfy me.
    Also, I got annoyed at the Guardian by having to click through to see each example of type which was linked. Isn’t it supposed to be a benefit of the press on-line that the illustration be alongside the article, perhaps in a box, or indeed the typeface mentioned be shown in that face, with a link if you want to explore it further.
    Possibly it is just the rush of getting the piece on the website, but if you have time to find the hyperlink … it looks like lack of imagination or laziness to me.

  6. lower case Latin is more readable than upper case Latin in normal fonts, because of the greater varieties of ascenders and descenders.
    Cassandre, my favourite graphic artist and typographer, has a beautiful typeface, from 1937, called Peignot, that is upper case only, but with descenders & ascenders. It was designed to be used in advertisements rather than text, though.

  7. e e cummings

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    About 20 years ago, the (academic) mother of a law school classmate of mine had acquired at some conference a t-shirt saying “Celticists Mind Their Ps and Qs.” Or something like that . . . I regret that I cannot recall whether the slogan was all upper-case or not, nor whether apostrophes were used to pluralize p & q.

  9. You can do it now!Can’t you?

  10. My oldest sister used to send me all-uppercase instant messages. As I recall, the reason was that on her version of Windows, switching between Hebrew and English was such a pain that she found it easier to stay in Hebrew mode and just use uppercase (which automatically meant English, even in Hebrew mode) than to actually switch to English.
    Perhaps due to the typeface used by that instant-message program, the effect was to give the impression of being excited, rather than angry.

  11. there was a lot of excitement last year when ikea changed the font in their logo to verdana, dropping the serifs of futura with here
    some accusing them of being nazi sympathisers and other saying the change of the font does not constitute a change of the logo.
    i can’t remember if it was discussed here, sorry.
    oh, and there is an orphan article on wikipedia about ps and qs, so i dutifully link to it.

  12. That’s really interesting about IKEA, I had no idea. By the way, there’s currently a post at the LRB blog about different people with almost the same name.
    I like your new layout on the left hand side, Language.

  13. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Spiekermann … famously said that while some men like to look at women’s bottoms, he prefers type.
    Isn’t it possible to like both? Seriously, though, like Spiekermann I find it hard to look at a printed page without trying to identify the typeface, though unlike Spiekermann I don’t usually succeed unless it’s something obvious like Times or Baskerville. Even then I need to look for an x (for Times) or a w (for Baskerville) to feel reasonably sure I’m correct.

  14. To think that some bloggers have their titles in all-caps, making it less likely for someone using a feedreader to read that person’s posts despite their potential insight..
    Well, “some bloggers” might be an exaggeration. My feedreader shows me only one. 😉

  15. Sorry to be tedious, but the article, although on the Guardian website, was (physically, as it were) in the Observer. I’m not sure what the etiquette will be in future when one print newspaper’s site eats the site of another.

  16. Thanks AJP – I notice it is upper and lower Ps and Qs, which is logical for me.

  17. Sorry to be tedious, but the article, although on the Guardian website, was (physically, as it were) in the Observer.
    Not tedious at all; my mistake, and I’ll fix it. I should check sourcing more carefully in these confusing times.
    I like your new layout on the left hand side, Language.
    Do you perchance mean the right hand side? So do I, and you can thank Noetica for that; he recently wrote me: “The section ‘Recently Commented On’ holds only five entries, but usually about a dozen threads are buzzing with interest and action. And then, it’s so far down the page, oppressed under the huge ‘Archives’ section (far less used, I bet). My proposal: swap the two around, expand the Recently section to about twelve entries, and compress the Archives section so that anything more than six months old is indexed by year, not by month.” I passed the suggestion on to my savvy stepson Songdog, who handles the tech stuff, and he expanded the one and contracted the other (as best he could using my creaky old version of Movable Type—one of these days we really must figure out how to get me fully updated).

  18. @Vasha There is a small contingent of online commenters and writers who choose not to use capital letters. Sometimes they have involved and tediously personal reasons for this choice. After a few sentences I lose patience with trying to read their typing, no matter what the rationale. ee cummings, though we never got to see him comment on a blog, is the exception to the rule.

  19. In a Cherman service-station on the way to the funeral of one of wife’s many aunts, I had a choice between the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the FAZ as special guest krant.
    I chose the FAZ, despite a long-standing aversion to its attitudes, just because I liked the typography better. (The Süddeutsche has taken to using a horrible sans for some of its headlines. A fine krant otherwise, though.)
    Meanwhile I am happy to report that Dutch typography continues to be of a generally high standard: the Dagblad van het Noorden (one of the daily papers to which we subscribe) recently rolled out a new style, tabloid through the week and with an excellent new face (or set of faces) by a local designer.
    NRC Handelsblad (our other daily) uses Bram de Does’s also wonderful Lexicon, originally developed for the Van Dale dictionaries.
    In a world in which I had infinite money, though, I’d have Gerard Unger’s Swift as my house typeface. In a (probably different) world in which I was commissioned to write articles about typefaces I would dwell at frankly tedious length on how much I hated the first generation of digital remasters: Bembo Book is a belated but welcome replacement for the wretched first attempt, and I would probably go on for entirely too long about the fad for Mrs Eave’s over-ligatured and spindly pastiche of Baskerville.
    Since I am more-or-less unwealthy, my house font is instead Lido, mostly because it has Central Yoorpean coverage for free.

  20. Jongseong Park says:

    there was a lot of excitement last year when ikea changed the font in their logo to verdana, dropping the serifs of futura … some accusing them of being nazi sympathisers and other saying the change of the font does not constitute a change of the logo.
    ASP Rottwelle, I’m sorry but you’ve got it dead wrong. Futura, like Verdana, is a sans-serif typeface. In fact, Verdana has serifs on capital I, so you could say Futura is even more sans-serif than Verdana.
    Futura is a geometric sans-serif design dating from 1927. Nazis used the typeface, but only because it was one of the most popular typefaces of the time; Futura itself never gained Nazi associations. Verdana is a humanist sans-serif designed in the 1990s especially for viewing on a computer screen, and is probably the most popular sans-serif typeface on the web. What possible Nazi connection would there be? The pro-Nazi past of the IKEA founder has nothing to do with the redesign issue, needless to say.
    There was an outcry over the switch from Futura to Verdana in the design community. This was a drastic change because Futura had been an iconic part of the IKEA look. The response was overwhelmingly negative, because to many people, Verdana is a default ‘web face’, a symbol of typographical homogeneity in the digital age. Saying simply that ‘there was a lot of excitement’ doesn’t quite capture this fact.
    For a more informed discussion, see this Typophile thread and the brief summary in the Wikipedia article.

  21. I’m waiting for a post somewhere explaining in what way the font we choose reveals our subconscious.

  22. Rottwelle pwn’d!

  23. Paul: Thanks AJP –
    It’s not me, though I’d have been glad to have helped, it’s the similarly-named ASP Rottwelle, who is an entirely different kettle of fish.
    Yes, at 57 I still can’t tell my left from my right. Well done, Noetica and Songdog.

  24. Yes, at 57 I still can’t tell my left from my right.
    Not all a matter of age. Many here must suffer from such slips. Something to do with laterality and superabundance of verbal IQ (or whatever is still politically correct to say).
    Good work, Hat and savvy Songdog. The front page is far easier to work with now.

  25. Doesn’t the use of lower case letters come from texting?

  26. Yes, the format is much improved, and Noetica’s basic observations are sound, but if I may offer some free advice–and you can decide for yourself if it’s worth what you paid for it–the search bar and the archives are still above the fold and those are not priority items. Returnees want to see the new posts and the comments. Noobs want to see the links and other toys. And an advanced google search of the specific website yields much better results than whatever search engine comes with the software. Expanding the comments was a good idea, but twelve? Eight might be enough to accommodate all the action, while discouraging the spam that seems to latch onto open threads through the front page comment section. Of course the only way to really find out if you like something is to try it and see how it goes, but, hmm, should change be incremental or not?

  27. Hat: One of these days we really must figure out how to get me fully updated.
    Yes, you really must. That way you can install ReCaptcha, have many fewer spammers, and all of the Hattics can do their bit toward the OCRing of scanned printed documents.
    Nijma: All-lower-case was prevalent in email long before texting existed. It was the email community that first decided that UPPER CASE = SHOUTING, which has become an incredibly ingrained synaesthetic reflex after thirty or forty years.

  28. in what way the font we choose reveals our subconscious.
    This earlier article, also by Simon Garfield, gives a few clues.
    Jongseong Park: Thanks for the explanation. If you look at the link above, you will see that IKEA’s old logo definitely had serifs, while the current one doesn’t.

  29. I agree with Sashura and his German friend: IKEA used to employ serifs and now they don’t.

  30. I also agree with Redwave that it’s interesting IKEA stayed with upper-case letters when they went sans serif. There’s now a split between those who like the “shout”, or the larger physical area covered by upper case, and those who prefer the coolness & association with the internet of lower case.

  31. (I ought to list some examples, but I have to go outside now.)

  32. IKEA used to employ serifs and now they don’t.
    When I first read this, I thought it said “IKEA used to employ serfs and now they don’t.” I was shocked.

  33. She appealed successfully for unfair dismissal.

    That is appalling, yes.

  34. I was shocked.
    Hee, hee. I’d been thinking about how IKEA used to be accused of exploiting cheap third-world labor (I think they stopped). I was just being silly.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    I like having more of the recent posts with comments listed. Quite often I intend to post a comment which is a little difficult to compose, and it is frustrating to find that the reference has disappeared after a few days. Thanks, Noetica (and Songdog of course).

  36. It’s so hard for serfs to find work these days.

  37. Astonishing, by the way, that the article asserts that fount/font comes from “fund” when it actually comes from the same source as “found” in the sense of form by melting.
    And, incidentally, I use the spelling “fount”, and that’s not because I am a whiskered traditionalist as the article puts it (I’m clean-shaven) but because that’s the spelling I grew up with.

  38. Jongseong Park says:

    Sashura: If you look at the link above, you will see that IKEA’s old logo definitely had serifs, while the current one doesn’t.
    Look carefully; there was no change in the logo. The logo at ikea.com is the same logo as in the photo in the link above. You may be confused because the logo has microserifs, which are not as visible at smaller sizes.
    The whole Futura to Verdana controversy has nothing to do with the logo. It’s about the typefaces used in their catalogues, instruction manuals, and publicity material in general, but not the logo. If you have any doubts, I’ll direct you to links where you can generate your own samples of ‘IKEA’ in Futura and Verdana so that you can see for yourself that the IKEA logo has nothing to do with these typefaces.
    This story nevertheless got passed around the internet with inaccurate titles like “Ikea New Logo Typeface Upsets Fans”, so people who read it casually must have assumed that it was the logo that was chaged.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    Picky: … not because I am a whiskered traditionalist as the article puts it (I’m clean-shaven)
    I looked in vain for any mention of a “whiskered traditionalist”, or even a person with just one of these descriptors. Perhaps the online article has been shortened?

  40. Look carefully
    Thanks again, point taken. I now see where the confusion is coming from, blinking internet.
    I myself only use Futura and Verdana when clients insist on them. My favourite sans-serif is Myriad Pro, because it has an incredible number of font variations. And my design professor ages ago inculcated in me the principle that to be of good style one project/document should use only one font, maximum two. That’s for PDF/print, for the internet you don’t always know how your text will be viewed by others.

  41. marie-lucie: I have it in the eleventh paragraph

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Picky, yes, I see “whiskered English traditionalists” there – I had been trying to find which one of the named speakers the words might apply to, later in the article. I guess “English traditionalist” would be more accurate?

  43. Well, moderarely so, I hope. The AmE spelling of font had certainly not driven out the BrE fount by the1970s as the article asserts: from my experience in the newspaper industry the BrE spelling was the only one we used at that time.
    The change started when the Mac entered composing rooms in the late 80s. Soon after, I decided to adopt the AmE spelling in communications with staff because they – most of them new to typesetting – couldn’t understand why I should use a lah-di-dah fancy spelling when what was to them the short, phonetic, and obviously correct version sat iin front them all day on a Macintosh menu.
    So only moderately traditionalist, I hope.
    But the u was still hardwired into my brain so that I could (and can) only write “font” by conscious editing.

  44. Dreadful typing errors. I blame this iPad.

  45. ignoramus says:

    It has been stated that harder the type face to read , more students remember what was written versus an easy readable type face, study versus glance, better retention factor.

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