The excellent Bathrobe (aka Bademantel and various other variants) has sent me a couple of enjoyable BBC News links on typefaces, which I hereby share with you.
Making things hard to read ‘can boost learning’, by Cordelia Hebblethwaite: “Researchers at Princeton University employed volunteers to learn made-up information about different types of aliens – and found that those reading harder fonts recalled more when tested 15 minutes later. They argue that schools could boost results by simply changing the font used in their basic teaching materials.” Makes sense to me; one reason I enjoy reading Russian is that I have to work harder at it, which means that I don’t skim as I do in English, and therefore retain more.
Do typefaces really matter?, by Tom de Castella, who provides a collection of quotes on the topic, ranging from positive (“Selecting a font is like getting dressed, Ms Strawson says. Just as one chooses an outfit according to the occasion, one decides on a font according to the kind of message you are seeking to convey”) to negative (“Mr Battista concludes that the font has been elevated to an absurdly high cultural status by a small, self-indulgent elite”). Frothy but fun.


  1. I am dreading what happens when that first result sparks an educational fad. It’s going to be the next “Mozart makes your baby smarter”, only far more horrible. It’s dreary enough for kids to read textbooks as it is; textbook publishers are going to be printing their books in obfuscated fonts and pushing the unpleasantness of the reading experience as a selling point.

  2. Movies with subtitles in Fraktur, so you can remember what happened.

  3. The play “The Typographers Dream” by Adam Bock discusses ethical issues concerning the choice of font. That’s not all it does, but it is one of the subjects covered in this interesting and unusual play.

  4. “Mr Battista concludes that the font has been elevated to an absurdly high cultural status by a small, self-indulgent elite.”
    Well, sure. But so has clothing. So at the very least, Strawson’s analogy is intact. (And I think there’s a social compact here that’s more fundamental than the rarefied tastes of high fashion or high typography. I don’t wear sweatpants to the opera, and they don’t print the libretto in Comic Sans; everybody wins.)

  5. Researchers at Princeton University employed volunteers to learn made-up information about different types of aliens … They argue that schools could boost results by simply changing the font used in their basic teaching materials.
    Aliens ? Sounds less like a representative group of people, and more like a bunch of intelligence-wastrels. I don’t know what is meant by “schools” in the quote, but the volunteers are apparently not children, so extrapolation to effects on the learning abilities of schoolchildren would have to be separately justified.
    Also, does “employed” in the quote mean the volunteers got paid ? Maybe school attenders of any age would learn better if they got cash instead of new fonts to struggle with.

  6. one reason I enjoy reading Russian is that I have to work harder at it, which means that I don’t skim as I do in English
    This is just about exactly how I feel about reading Spanish and German, although this is maybe not as applicable to the question of difficult fonts.

  7. This claim about harder-to-read fonts making texts easier-to-read has made me so irritable that I did some research. Essentially I merely read the BBC news report link, and checked the references. I can now demonstrate that this study, and/or the BBC report about it, is a put-on. It hangs on the ruse of calling fonts “harder-to-read” that are not at all hard to read.
    I wrote above that extrapolation to schoolchildren would require separate justification. Well, to my embarassment this is the very next thing (after the volunteer study) that the BBC reports describes. At a secondary school, the researchers randomly divided 222 students between 15 and 18 year olds into a test and control group. Also:

    Teachers were asked to send all supplementary learning materials to the researchers, who then changed the texts to the harder-to-read fonts Haettenschweiler, Monotype Corsiva, and Comic Sans Italicised.

    But this is the phoney bit: these fonts are not at all hard to read ! In particular, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Comic Sans font had been developed by comicbook publishers precisely because of it was shown to appeal to kids and is easy for them to read.
    Here are links to graphics of Haettenschweiler, Monotype Corsiva and Comic Sans. Judge for yourself.

  8. I presume the use of imaginary aliens was to remove the possiblity of prior knowledge affecting the results. The study with actual students was presumably more complicated.
    But yes, some research indicating that those fonts are actually hard to read would be useful in assessing the results…

  9. Maybe the effect (if there really is one) is simply that you have to work a little bit harder when you’re presented with a font you’re not familiar with. But after a little bit of practice, the new font will become perfectly easy to read, and then you’ll have to switch to yet another.
    So the real strategy to revolutionize education is that you have to give kids text in fonts that change whimsically and erratically every few minutes. Should be easy to do with Kindles and the like.

  10. Well, small print is harder for me to read nowadays than large print, and I find that when I magnify print, I read with a lot more clarity. When I try to read the standard-sized print, I end up skimming and missing too much content.
    Also larger print = more mouse clicks, which means I don’t fall asleep when the content is boring but I have to read it anyway.

  11. Jongseong Park says:

    There are different reasons why some texts are harder to read. One could be printing conditions—think uneven ink on cheap stock. Another is the use of unfamiliar letterforms. Blackletter is hard to read for those used to Humanist letterforms.
    There is also the fact that certain typeface designs do not differentiate letters as clearly as others. Helvetica is an offender here, because it privileges regularity of form over everything else. People tend to think of something like Helvetica as being easy to read because of the clean appearance, but the design itself isn’t best suited for long texts. And woe to anyone who sets small print numerals in Helvetica (3 and 8 become easy to confuse in small sizes). Arial (used as the control in the experiment) is a bit better, but not by much.
    Comic Sans is frankly an ugly design and not suited for serious text, but in terms of differentiation between letters it is better than Helvetica or Arial. Comic Sans is maligned for lots of reasons, but being difficult to read is not one of them. Also, due to its being installed on so many computers, I read things set in Comic Sans all the time (even official contracts), and I’m surely not the only one. We read best what we read most, as the typographic adage goes, and lots of people must be used to reading things in Comic Sans today.
    Digital versions of Bodoni suffer from thin hairlines at smaller sizes, but the design itself was produced for setting long text. ‘Moderns’ like Bodoni were staple text typefaces at the advent of mass literacy in the 19th century. It is not at all obvious that Arial is more readable than Bodoni.
    In short, the researchers went in with impressionistic ideas about which typefaces were easy to read, and it is likely that they are wrong. Note also that they used 16-point Arial to compare with 12-point versions of other typefaces. Print something in 16-point Arial and compare the size with what you find in an average book, magazine, or a newspaper. The researchers obviously thought that bigger must equal easier to read, but again this is not provable. Note also that point sizes (measured by the vertical space occupied by the letters) are not the best indicators of the visual size of typefaces. 12-point Arial will look bigger than 12-point Monotype Corsiva, for example.

  12. And another BBC News science story is demolished!

  13. There is a curious openness in this discussion to the idea that “harder-to-read” fonts (whatever that may be – I can only think of Fraktur, as Crown mentioned) might help you learn better/more. As far as I can figure out, lurking in the background of this openness is a version of the old spare-the-rod belief: the harder you make it for them, the better they progress.
    It is true that practice is necessary to perfection where an activity must be practiced, the exercise of which is itself the goal. Examples are weightlifting and singing. However, schoolchildren are traditionally (and rightly so) taught to read only as an intermediate goal towards a further one: the ability to acquire knowledge from the books they will be able to read. Reading ability is not something that can continue to be “improved” – there is no Nobel prize for groundbreaking reading ability. There is no point in making it harder to read by introducing weird fonts, as if these were extra weights to challenge the strength of a weightlifter. To take another example, once you have learned to chew your food you are set up for a lifetime of eating – it’s superfluous to go on to practice chewing rubber and stones.
    To challenge schoolchildren, you should give them Luhmann and Sloterdijk in Times New Roman, instead of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Comic Sans. The appeal of rounded fonts is all too obvious – the primary interest of 15- to 18-year-old kids is concentrated on the rounding, bulging and swelling of pubescent tissue in themselves and their friends.

  14. kanjis are a great hindrance to learn Japanese ime

  15. Jongseong Park says:

    Suppose the conclusions of the study are valid and typefaces that are harder to read are better for learning. Does it mean that textbooks should all switch to typefaces that are harder to read?
    The brain will get used to reading pretty much anything. The textualis typeface of Gutenberg’s Bible is pretty hard to read for most of us today, but if we grew up studying textbooks set in the same typeface, then reading it would become second nature. Then whatever learning advantage we might have had from using a difficult-to-read typeface would be lost. The trick is to keep on using different typefaces, then?

  16. I don’t think the principle here is any different than using a yellow highlighter, creating an event to help the brain to memorize something important.

  17. Crown, does using a yellow highlighter help you to “recall more when tested 15 minutes later”, as the report puts it ? Cutting out the important passages and pasting them onto your forehead would be even more helpful. All you would then need in addition is an even number of hand mirrors.

  18. Traditionally, other kinds of activity “help the brain memorize something”: repetition, discussion, application to a task, and techniques of concentration (none of these are “events”, as Gilbert Ryle once explained in considerable detail). Annoying, tiring fonts belong to the category of distractions, which impede memorization and learning.

  19. I wouldn’t dream of using a highlighter myself, they ruin books. I don’t want to see what the last person thought was important, it puts me off.
    Did you know that Gilbert Ryle could down (an Imperial) pint of bitter in five 5 seconds?

  20. John Emerson says:

    If I liked bitter, so could I.

  21. Where did you read that about Ryle ?? Clearly I’ve missed something.

  22. I think we may be confusing two processes.
    When we are reading continuous text, the eye moves along the line in a series of jumps, at each jump collecting a wodge of characters which the brain resolves into words and phrases. The ease with which a typeface combines characters to form readily recognisable words is a measure of its “readability”.
    If the brain is unable to resolve a particular word, the eye jolts back to focus on it. The brain may, if the word is unfamiliar, start picking it to pieces letter by letter (perhaps internally pronouncing letters or syllables). The ease with which individual characters can be distinguished and identified is a measure of the font’s “legibility”.
    Very, very roughly one could say that upper-case characters tend to be more legible but less readable than lower-case; that serif fonts tend to be more readable and legible than sans; and that Fraktur and other blackletter faces score badly (to modern eyes) on both counts.
    For reading continuous text, readability is more important than legibility, but for short pieces of text – headlines, shop signs, perhaps comics – legibility is just as significant.
    For children, legibility may be the more important quality because they will read shorter stretches of text, and will do more dismantling of words because of their lower level of reading skill and still expanding written vocabulary. I would rate Comic Sans a highly legible but not highly readable face.

  23. It’s in Adam Sisman’s biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was a friend of Ryle’s, especially during their WW2 codebreaking years. If you can do that, John, you ought to provide video evidence. Not that I don’t believe you, I’d just like to see it.

  24. Oops, wrong link.

  25. That is a very helpful explanation, Picky – thanks ! It would appear that the people who conducted that Princeton study, and the subsequent one in a secondary school, are not aware of these distinctions.
    But even apart from that, I find it strange that the fact that their finding has not a shred of plausibility did not give them pause. When I draw up my monthly fee bill, I use a calculator to multiply the number of hours by the hourly fee. When a 6-digit number comes out, I immediately realize that I must have made a mistake in entering the numbers, or by pushing the wrong operation button, or something else.
    On their own theory, I would have expected them to have experienced “disfluency”, as they define it:

    “Disfluency is just a subjective feeling of difficulty associated with any mental task,” explained psychology Prof Daniel Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the study. “So if something is hard to see or hear, it feels disfluent… We’d found that disfluency led people to think harder about things.

    The difficulty for me was to understand how it could possibly be that their claim is true. They, however, experienced a feeling of excitement rather than of difficulty. I conclude from this that a researcher should mistrust feelings of excitement, because they discourage him from thinking harder.

  26. John Emerson says:

    Would a pint of lager be OK?

  27. Anything. Fizzy water.

  28. When a 6-digit number comes out, I immediately realize that I must have made a mistake
    This is why you’re not a rich man, Grumbly.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    I think that the simple explanation is that less legible or readable type (like reading in a foreign language) slows down reading, making it it more difficult to skim rather than read, and therefore helping the reader remember details (if those details are important – painfully deciphering an uninteresting text because you can’t find the relevant paragraph in short order can be extremely frustrating).
    But I don’t think that making it more difficult for children to read would be a smart move, especially for English-speaking children, who take a lot longer to learn to read than those whose language has a more coherent spelling. “Slow readers” in any grade would have an even harder time reading, and would be even less likely than they are now to enjoy reading.

  30. Quoth Grumbly: “However, schoolchildren are traditionally (and rightly so) taught to read only as an intermediate goal towards a further one: the ability to acquire knowledge from the books they will be able to read.”
    Not at all. I myself read fast and fluently, but many, perhaps most, of the things I read are filled with the most preposterous lies, and the knowledge I acquire from them, if any, is of quite a different order, and by no means the main purpose of reading them.

  31. Oh, and the epitome of illegible as well as unreadable typefaces is Stop.

  32. That’s the worst typeface I’ve ever seen. How is the K supposed to work without a J before it?

  33. marie-lucie says:

    Books filled with knowledge are not the only thing a person will read. A person uninterested in acquiring knowledge or in literature will still need to read the phonebook, the newspaper or its online equivalent, instructions for using all sorts of equipement, leases, warranties, etc. The most important part of many documents is usually that written in “fine print”, which does not just save space but is often illegible without magnification and therefore discourages the reader. Using hard-to-read fonts for such documents would hardly be to the advantage of the reader, any more than using convoluted traditional legal language leads to better understanding of the law on the part of the uninitiated.

  34. Somehow, this reminds me of the Ruth Rendell thriller “A Judgment in Stone”, where a woman murders the family she’s working for just so they won’t find out she can’t read or write. Needless to say, it is a written clue that helps convict her of the crime.

  35. You will notice that “Information about the typeface Stop and where to buy it” is not written in Stop. I wonder if it would help sales if they did?

  36. This is why you’re not a rich man, Grumbly.
    Wrong conclusion, Crown. The 6-digit number indicates a mistake on my part because it is usually a 7-digit number.

  37. Quoth Grumbly: However, schoolchildren …
    Retorteth John Cowan: Not at all. I myself …
    But you are not a schoolchildren, John.

  38. Wrong conclusion, Crown.
    This is why I’m not a rich man.

  39. Besides, you seem to be neglecting the pennies.

  40. There are many reasons why I’m not a rich man.

  41. I meant that when you count in the 2 digits after the decimal point, a 7-figure monthly income in pesos is not that great.

  42. I’ve seen very old books written in German, using a hard-to-read German font; I wonder what the name of that font is? Would using it make learning German any easier?
    Regarding readability:
    I’m in the upper Midwest of the U.S…and I remember when I was five I had a book of Uncle Remus stories, written in very heavy Southern dialect. It was a challenge to read, very slow going. I could read other books well enough by then, but I preferred books without such heavy dialect.
    I don’t suppose history and chemistry textbooks would be any more effective if they were written in heavy dialects other than the students’ own.
    Imagine a political science textbook written in a New Guinea pidgin…

  43. If those guys in Frankfurt are paying you in pesos, you’re being ripped off, G.

  44. Reading the above comments, it seems that people are accepting the headline “Making things hard to read ‘can boost learning’” as true.
    The succeeding commenters show that the researchers proved the exact opposite.
    Their “easy and clear to read” font was “16-point Arial pure black font”. In an office where I used to work, this is the font we used to make signs to announce room changes for meetings. The letters are thick, much heavier than bold. It is easy to see across a room, but no easier to scan than all caps. Their “harder-to-read font” was 12-point Comic Sans. How did they decide a huge bold fond was easier to “read” than a normal sized gray font? “Just a subjective feeling of difficulty.” They made it up.
    In fact, what they proved was that making things harder to read makes things harder to learn.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    Imagine a political science textbook written in a New Guinea pidgin…
    I imagine that such a textbook written in Tok Pisin (the official language of New Guinea) would be just what’s needed for native and other fluent speakers of the language, but even an ordinary newspaper written in Tok Pisin is a considerable challenge to speakers of English. Same thing for French speakers faced with reading Haitian or Mauritian Creole: those are different languages, not simplified versions of English or French.
    Fraktur: back in the time when I was studying German I read an entire book (one of Goethe’s novels) written in Fraktur. I did not find getting used to the type very difficult (except for some of the capitals), but cursive Fraktur is something else, mostly because the letter “e” is only minimally different from “u” and “n”. Unless the writer is very careful, in a word like “hemmen”, after the initial vertical the rest looks like a succession of undifferentiated little spikes. Fortunately, we were not called upon to learn to read or produce it, but the few manuscript documents (letters, etc) that I have seen looked mostly undecipherable.

  46. A few of the Fraktur capitals are unnecessarily hard to distinguish from each other. I think “G” and “S” are one such pair. Also, the small “f” and “s” both look like “f”, as in Olde Englysshe: the “s” is an “f” with the little horizontal projection on the left chopped off.
    When circumstances force me to read something in Fraktur, I pretty much fly blind and usually can land without scraping the runway with the wings. Kant, who had eye problems, mentioned once that he preferred to read Fraktur because the fiddly-faddly (not his word) features provided his eyes with restful variety, and relief from the rigid columns of Antiqua (or whatever it was).

  47. For “unnecessarily hard” read “annoyingly hard”

  48. Trond Engen says:
  49. Thanks for the correction, Trond. It’s the right-hand whisker that gets lopped to turn an “f” into an “s”.

  50. In the one font, that is. In the other, the esses are clean-shaven.

  51. Udresfeabifen for adresseavisen is perverse. Is the switching of B and V in any way related to vocal substituting of B for V in Spanish?

  52. Where do you see a switching of b and v in “Udresfeabifen” ? The last five letters are “visen”. It’s only capital B and V that are hard to distinguish.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: Is the switching of B and V in any way related to vocal substituting of B for V in Spanish?
    No. Some of the Fraktur letters are very close in shape to each other, that’s all.
    The sounds of B and V are not “substituted” for each other in Spanish: the sounds corresponding to those letters used to be distinct in Old Spanish (as in French or Italian), but they became confused in later Spanish. Both letters are pronounced [b] at the beginning of (isolated) words and after most consonants, and a weaker form of this sound (not a real [v]) between vowels. This is why in “la bamba” the first “b” (coming after the “a” of the article) has the weaker sound and the second “b” (after the consonant [m]) has a true [b] sound.

  54. Thanks, m-l. I tried asking my daughter, but she was listening to her ipod.
    Grumb, look at the V in Trond’s link. It has a l.h. squiggle that makes it look like a B.

  55. Well OK, I’ll let you have that one. I suppose I’ve had to deal with Fraktur more often than you, so I didn’t even register the squiggle, much less regard it as needing interpretation.
    Many ordinary Germans don’t know Fraktur as a font name. Outside of medical contexts ([bone] fracture), only old folks know Fraktur in the expression Fraktur reden mit jemandem [speak tacheles with s.o.], and would use it that way.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    The equivalent of “Fraktur” in French is “l’écriture gothique”.

  57. Marie-Lucie, my understanding is that spoken Spanish has never distinguished /b/ and /v/. The RAE says:

    «No existe en español diferencia alguna en la pronunciación de las letras b y v. Las dos representan hoy el sonido bilabial sonoro /b/. La ortografía española mantuvo por tradición ambas letras, que en latín representaban sonidos distintos. En el español medieval hay abundantes muestras de confusión entre una y otra grafía, prueba de su confluencia progresiva en la representación indistinta del mismo sonido, confluencia que era ya general en el siglo xvi. La pronunciación de la v como labiodental no ha existido nunca en español, …»

    Which is not quite the same thing. I wonder what <v> corresponded to in Old Spanish, if it wasn’t [v], as they say above, and it was distinct from that of <b>.

  58. (Of course this digression of mine is most likely to needlessly confuse AJP, for which I apologise!)

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Aidan, I don’t have my copy of Penny’s history of Spanish handy, but since the sounds [b] and [v] (the latter from the Latin sound [w], written V in Latin) are kept distinct in Portuguese, French, some Catalan dialects, and Italian, it is likely that they were once distinct in Spanish (and Occitan) also, even if they were starting to merge (at least in some dialects) by the time of Old Spanish. Many sound changes start in one area of a region or country and gradually spread, especially if there is a population movement or if the change is considered as prestigious. This change is considered to have started in Northern Spain and gradually spread to the whole country.
    Wikipedia (which has quite a detailed description of the history of Spanish) says this:
    Many Castilians who took part in the reconquista and later repopulation campaigns were of Basque lineage, and this is evidenced by many place names throughout Spain. Influence of Basque phonology is credited by some researchers with softening the Spanish labiodentals: turning labiodental [v] to [β]*, and ultimately deleting labiodental [f]. Others negate or downplay Basque phonological influence, claiming that these changes occurred in the affected dialects wholly independent of each other as a result of internal change (i.e. linguistic factors, not outside influence). It is also possible that the two forces, internal and external, worked in concert and reinforced each other.
    *[β] is the bilabial sound taken by Spanish “b” or “v” between vowels, etc. To learn to produce this sound, try saying “abbabbabbabba…” as fast as possible: your lips cannot sustain a true “b” sound for long and will start producing a [β] (you will feel your lips “tickled” by the outgoing air!).
    “Deleting labiodental [f]” is not quite correct, it is a shortcut conflating the change [f] to [h] and the later loss of “aspirated” [h] (something which is mentioned in the same article, and that was discussed here a short while ago). The change [f] to [h] also occurred in Gascon, the Occitan variety spoken in Southwestern France (in anciently Basque-speaking territory), where the [h] is still “aspirated” in the language (as in English hand, etc).

  60. where the [h] is still “aspirated” in the language (as in English hand, etc).
    I’ve sometimes thought a more accurate word for that would be “expirated”. Perhaps you do as well, marie-lucie, since you put “aspirated” in quotes. The reason is simple: if you aspirate a word, you will choke on it, just as if it were gristle.

  61. Nijma, Stu’s aspirations are different from yours.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: if you aspirate a word, you will choke on it,
    Very well put, but some people (usually very shy ones) actually speak while inhaling, and there are some languages in which this is part of normal phonation (along with the much more common habit of speaking while exhaling). See “Ingressive” on WP.

  63. Thanks for worrying, but my Spanish isn’t far enough along for me to become confused.

  64. It’s also important in considering the history of Spanish that the /f/ > /h/ transition happens very early, but the consistent written use of “h” instead of “f” doesn’t arrive until the 16th century, by which time essentially all /h/ was long since lost. (Primary /h/ was lost by the year 1 CE, though still written in at least some circumstances in all Romance languages.)

  65. marie-lucie says:

    JC, what do you mean by “very early”? What you are saying here does not seem to jibe with the discussion and references about Don Quixote in a previous thread.

  66. Trond Engen says:

    In an episode of his excellent TV series Svenska dialektmysterier (“Swedish dialect mysteries”) the comedian, linguist and documentary maker Fredrik Lindström went searching for a famous, almost mythical, Northern Swedish dialect phenomenon, a word sounding something like [ɧu:] for “yes”. (I’ll recount from memory since SVT has removed the clip, so this is probably wrong in every detail.) On his way he explored the features of Norrländska: the linguistic economy, the short expressions, the preference for composite words rather than adjective phrases, the pauses … but no [ɧu:]. Until he met an old woman living alone in the forest. They had a long, mostly silent conversation at her kitchen table. Finally, when he asked her something that sounded like it wanted a long answer, she sat silent for a while. looking out of her window and into her cup of coffee and back out of her window, and said [ɧu:]. It turned out to be a ‘jo’ while inhaling.

  67. Trond Engen says:

    On the other hand, there are people who are so eager to express themselves that they speak on both inwards and outwards airflow. In his heyday Rosenborg‘s legendary manager Nils Arne Eggen famously would speak when inhaling and smoke while exhaling. Or at least his parodies would, in which case it’s even more true.

  68. I whistle while alternately exhaling and inhaling.
    It seems to me that Danes have a characteristic noisy inhalation, a little gasping sound that they sometimes make while you’re talking to them; it can be a little distracting until you’re used to it. Maybe it is synonymous with “mmhm”.

  69. The Danes, yes, a little inhaling sound while someone else is talking, through the mouth. I have taken it to mean either agreement or surprise, depending on the suddenness of the sound–the sound is meant to express something without interrupting the speaker.
    American academics make an inhaling noise also, but it is through the nose and while they are mid-sentence. A smug sound. Charlie Rose does it when he talks to academics but not when he talks to actors or politicians.

  70. I wonder if academics make that noise when they’re not talking to other academics.

  71. American academics make an inhaling noise also, but it is through the nose and while they are mid-sentence. A smug sound.
    My non-academic father did that, and it made me frantic with annoyance. It was a kind of brief, weighing-up-the-evidence-and-concluding-that-my-views-are-of-course-the-right-ones snort. It worked like the bell that announces the next round during a boxing match whose outcome has already been decided.

  72. A negative-pressure snort, i.e. the smugness was inspired, although I always hoped it would expire.

  73. But a snort more than a sniff?

  74. In Germany and Skandinavia many women (but only women) make an inhaling whooshing noise to mean “yes”. When I try it I worry I’m going to choke, so I suspect there’s an anatomical explanation. My English grandmother used to do it too.

  75. It worked like the bell that announces the next round during a boxing match
    OT but i hope GS will enjoy this
    fave of faves

  76. But a snort more than a sniff?
    Definitely a snort, but inbound.

  77. read, that is a fabulous animated film, with subtleties despite the slapstick – thanks !

  78. inhaling whooshing noise to mean “yes”
    Crown, I know exactly the phenomenon you mean. I think primarily older women do it, and affectacious ones. (I just know that’s a legit word, even though it’s not in MW or the OED).

  79. In Germany and Skandinavia many women (but only women) make an inhaling whooshing noise to mean “yes”.
    I use to hear this in Canada (Nova Scotia), but it was done while actually saying “yes” and it was both men and women.

  80. marie-lucie says:

    read, thank you! I would not normally watch boxing in any form, but this is very good. The close match between music and action is great. I guess the words are not in a single, real language?
    And does the Russian title represent “brake” or rather “break”?

  81. Perhaps the Danes who have whooshed me that way are mostly women, yes. But the one of thinking of is not so old. Well, compared to me. Oh wait, I’m pretty old.
    Didn’t strike me as an affectation, though.

  82. Didn’t strike me as an affectation, though
    I suspect I have more stringent standards as to acceptable behavior in women than many men can afford to apply. Though not so harsh as Browning’s duke.

  83. GS and M-l, my pleasure
    M-l watched it here.. i have the link on my fb page, so people do not click on my links there :(((\
    that is break, a command to separate the boxers from their close holding each other, a boxing term i guess

  84. whooshed affectacious
    in my language also yes is said that way, but not just the inhaling sound but the ending of the word – yes – tiim – becomes like tehhh, t is almost not sounding and it’s acceptable to say so for both genders and all ages, but usually if someone feels close and comfortable with the one one is talking to, family, friends

  85. thanks, Read, for the link,
    I think the original ‘брек’ (brek, not break) appears in the well known Soviet film “Первая перчатка” (The Number One Glove), a 1946 Mosfilm production that very obviously incorporates 1920s avant-garde, socialist realism and the post-war search for individual emotional expression – and the score is wonderful, survives to this day. Also note the instruments they employ for expressing eroticism as suppressed in those days in the Soviet Union as in the US.
    The word “брек” itself is curious: it does not appear in most Russian dictionaries, but is well-known to russophones. Go to 15:08 mins in the clip to hear the coach shout it.

  86. (brek, not break)
    there is a word brek in English?
    i thought Russians use brek meaning break as in English break

  87. Sorry for being late, but a few comments:
    1-The fate of Latin /b/ and /v/ (earlier /w/) in Romance: *intervocalically*, the two are merged in all Romance languages without exception. In other positions, they remain distinct and were merged in Spanish at a comparatively recent date (sixteenth century: an early stratum of loanwords in New World languages shows that /b/ and /v/ were separate phonemes in at least some forms of early colonial Spanish).
    For instance, compare Latin /bibetis/ and /wiwetis/ (you(pl.) drink/you (pl.) live) and the French reflexes /byve/ and /vive/: the phonemes are merged intervocally (as /v/) and remain distinct word-initially.
    2-The Spanish /f/ to /h/ shift certainly postdates the fall of the Roman Empire: Germanic loanwords in Spanish always have zero as a reflex of Germanic /h/.
    3-The Gascon /f/ to /h/ shift also must postdate the fall of the Empire, inasmuch as it too has zero as a reflex of Germanic /h/.
    However, some Germanic loanwords were affected by the change, such as /hresk/ “fresh” from Frankish *FRISK, for example. The last example makes a Basque substrate explanation unlikely in the extreme, inasmuch as Basque does not tolerate and (as far as we can tell) never has tolerated clusters of /h/ + consonant.
    4-John Cowan: Romanian is an exception to your claim that all Romance languages make etymological use of the letter : graphic in Romanian is, I believe, never etymological (and thus never corresponds to /h/ in Latin, either, since this phoneme did not survive anywhere in Romance, including Romanian).

  88. marie-lucie says:

    The title in the video itself says брек, and the YouTube title has the same word, followed by the “translation” “Brake”, hence my comment: “brake” does not make sense in the context, so it has to be “break”, meaning “scheduled pause” (as in “coffee break”, or here a break between boxing “rounds”).

  89. so it has to be “break”, meaning “scheduled pause” (as in “coffee break”, or here a break between boxing “rounds”)
    marie-lucie, I’m sure that the meaning of “break” in the title is “a command to separate the boxers from their close holding each other”, as read explained – not the interval between rounds. The “close holding” is a “clinch”, a defensive move, which fits perfectly into the story-next-to-a-story character of the clip (which I’m getting to, at a snail’s pace):

    If a “clinch” – a defensive move in which a boxer wraps his or her opponents arms and holds on to create a pause – is broken by the referee, each fighter must take a full step back before punching again (alternatively, the referee may direct the fighters to “punch out” of the clinch).

    The time interval between rounds can be called “pause”, I think, or “time out”, or “time” – or (gesturing at the lot of them, so to say, instead of denoting just one) “between rounds”. Queensberry’s rule 3 called it “time”:

    The rounds to be of three minutes duration, and one minute’s time between rounds.

    I couldn’t find a link clearly attesting “pause”. The internet is bursting with references to “pause” in connection with “chessboxing” or “boxing” computer games, where “pause” means “push the pause button to pause the game at any time, not just between rounds”.
    Anyway, what’s nice about the “break” title is that it has a function in both stories – the boxing story, and the other one about little people (citizens of a country) being sent out by big people (politicians, generals) to fight (wars). In the second story, the punch-drunk clinch turns into a defensive hugging (Queensberry rule 2: “No wrestling or hugging allowed.”) – but hugging is also liking, and the little guys break out of their subservience into a successful rebellion against the warmasters. Thus the apotheosis of light with the referee at the end.
    I made up “story-next-to-a-story” to supplant the “story-within-a-story” beloved of hermeneutomaniacs and debunkers. With “story-next-to-a-story”, there is the notion of merely turning the page – and you can always turn back, so there is no more-significant-than-thou-ness about either story. I briefly considered using “allegory”, but that has been flattened into unusability by history-of-ideas tonnage.

  90. yes, it must be from break. OED has this meaning: [ intrans. ] (of two boxers or wrestlers) come out of a clinch, typically at the referee’s command : I was acting as referee and telling them to break.

  91. A splendidly informative comment, Grumbly!

  92. Yes, “break” is what an English-speaking referee says to separate the fighters, and “break, break” if they don’t separate fast enough. You can see it in context at about 8:20 in the video. The spectators want to see pommeling, not leaning.
    The guy in the big headphones reminds me of the incomparable Howard Cosell, of the annoying voice, who later did much to make boxing less lethal.
    The ref seems to be saying “hasta mañana” at a couple of points, not sure if this is a joke or if it’s supposed to be something in Russian.

  93. marie-lucie says:

    A splendidly informative comment, Grumbly!
    I agree! Not being a boxing enthusiast, I did not know the technical use of break.
    “hasta mañana”
    I heard this too, especially at the end, and there seemed to be some English words here and there. Most of it sounded Russian to my ears, but I know too little Russian to be sure. What do the russophones think?

  94. “hasta mañana”
    that is a joke, and the fake English and Italian sound very funny and like naturally sounding there, no? there is no a word in Russian in the multik

  95. marie-lucie says:

    read, thank you, my impression was that the language was fake (as I said at the beginning), with a few genuine words from various languages here and there (“hasta mañana” means “till tomorrow” in Spanish).

  96. Etienne: “Beati hispani, quibus vivere bibere est!”
    To be sure, Romanian is an exception, but that is because Romanian was not written in Latin letters until about 1830, and not universally so until about 1920. So etymological writing in Romanian is a meaningless notion. In any case, written “h” is a weakened form of /x/, and was written “x” in Cyrillic.

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