If you’re in London, or plan to be there in the next few months, you might want to visit the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library: “In this ground-breaking exhibition, the roots of Old English, slang dictionaries, medieval manuscripts, advertisements and newspapers from around the world come together – alongside everyday texts and dialect sound recordings. Follow the social, cultural and historical influences on the English language… and see how it’s still evolving today.” It opens today and lasts until April 3 of next year. A tip of the hat to Glyn, who wrote to tell me about it and added “Many thanks to the Americans who sponsored it!”


  1. Thanks, I’ll go to this. Having just read that book Just My Type, I’m struck by how clear the writing is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 10th Century, compared to much later writing and early printing.
    I wasn’t crazy about Just My Type, by the way. I found most of the examples much too small to see and I’d mistakenly thought it was a fairly scholarly book, whereas it’s more “funny stories about printing”.

  2. Oops.
    Actually, that brings me to another point. What do the style manuals have to say about italicising book titles? Some people (publishers?) put them all in caps, others put them in quotations, yet more do nothing.

  3. Depends on the style manual and the country. In America, book and movie titles are ital while article and song titles are roman (non-ital), both with “headline style” (major words capitalized), except in newspapers, where they traditionally avoid itals (even though nowadays they’re no trouble to set). I think UK standards are similar; at any rate, the Wikipedia style page has those rules, and it’s clearly not US-specific (given the recommendation at the end to “place adjacent punctuation outside any italics or quotation marks unless the punctuation is part of the title itself,” grr).

  4. If I had anything to say about it only a few fonts would be admissible, the use of others being heavily fined. Italics, underlining, and bold print would be subject to rigorous scrutiny to determine whether they hinder or help readability.
    I find it very tiring having to adjust to dozens of different fonts in books. Why all this fiddling around with print, as if books were primarily works of art to be seen but not read ? Plato was almost right in banning poets from positions of influence – he should instead have said graphic designers. The Jews separate the milky and the meaty – there ought to be a law requiring shops to keep content books and ooh-aah books on different shelves.

  5. Thanks, Language! I’ll file that for the next time I worry about it, and I hope I’ll remember to look.
    Grumbly-Rumbly, I agree that typography is an esoteric sport with a lot of getting hot under the collar about next-to-nothing. In that, it greatly resembles the architecture job (and it probably attracts the same persnickety, compulsive sort of people). That being said, different kinds of graphic order and different typefaces are essential for reading text easily. I don’t want the King James Bible laid out like a Mickey Spillane novel, nor vice versa.
    On another level entirely, I object to the common prejudice that what a book says is more important than what it looks like. It reminds me of bulbul’s comment about Apple computers, that you’re a dummy if you pay more money just because of the way something looks. Well, I want it all! Visual coherence is as important as getting your verb tenses right. Looks and content complement each other: good looks with no content are vacuous looks, and ugly content is just that.

  6. marie-lucie says

    In France, architecture is taught is schools of Fine Arts, not of Engineering.
    People vary in their sensitivity to visual perception and presentation. I think that I am a very visual person: where possible, I much prefer to look at a picture or diagram rather than read a page of explanations, but some people are confused by even simple diagrams and are more comfortable with pages of explanations. I also find the right colour and colour combinations to be very important. I don’t go so far as to order my bookshelves by colour (although I avoid colour clashes in adjacent books), but that’s the way I arrange my clothes in my closet.
    I read not too long ago that nowadays books for even small children are going in the direction of more words and fewer pictures, because that’s what parents choose even when the children would rather have picture books, in the belief that fewer pictures will encourage the children to read. I think this is a gross mistake, like the idea that children will learn better if the type is difficult to read.

  7. Ideally, m-l, structural engineering would be taught in schools of Fine Arts. Some of the greatest architects have also been structural engineers (or some of the greatest structural engineers have also been architects): Brunelleschi, Pier-Luigi Nervi, now Calatrava.

  8. AJP,
    Thanks, I’ll go to this.
    Do you plan to do so in the near future, like, say, next week? I’ll be in London Monday through Thursday spending most of the time (as expected) at the British Library, so if anybody wants to meet up, give me a shout.
    I much prefer to look at a picture or diagram rather than read a page of explanations
    I wonder, what is your stance on Powerpoint?

  9. AJP,
    RE Apple computers: Hm, I can’t remember saying that, but it does sound right, although it’s not the whole picture. With Apple computers (iPhone, iPod and iPad are a different story), you don’t just pay more, you pay the double for nothing more than some pleasing but really not special design and the brand name. With computers, I definitely prefer function over form which is why I build my own rigs. With books, however, content over looks is not a prejudice, it’s common sense. True, I’ve been known you make purchasing choices based on how a book looked (a gorgeous first edition of Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac or an equally beautiful Russian translation of Knight in Panther’s skin), but still.

  10. marie-lucie says

    bulbul, I have seen PowerPoint presentations (often marred by lost time at the beginning because of necessary adjustments) but have nevet tried to do one myself.
    In my field, if you do an oral presentation at a conference you distribute a handout with at least the outline of your paper and the relevant examples and figures/diagrams/charts/maps etc if needed. This handout helps members of the audience follow the presentation and they can take it home afterwards. Nowadays this format is often replaced by powerpoint presentations, even if they include no figures but just words and sentences (in point form). Powerpoint saves paper (and allows for photographs too if needed) but means that the listeners do not take anything home. On the other hand, during the presentation the listeners’ attention is focused on speaker and screen rather than on the handouts in their lapss, but I miss the paper handouts, which are a tangible reminder of the presentation and a durable source of information. They are especially valuable if you as a listener have to choose between two presentations occurring at the same time, since you can often pick up a handout for the one you cannot attend, but if you miss powerpoint this is not an option.

  11. bulbul, not before January, unfortunately. Too bad, I would love to meet up with you. Let me know next time you go; my mother’s moving to England & I’ll probably be going there a lot.
    I ought to be able to provide a citation. It must have been about a year ago, and for some reason it’s stuck in my memory. Building your own rig is definitely the smart aesthete’s way to go.

  12. Marie-Lucie: I do use Powerpoints full of text, but I make sure that the texts are true headlines (that is, sentences) rather than mere captions (that is, NPs). When possible (which it isn’t always), I print out the same Powerpoints four to a page on both sides of the paper, which makes for a nice handout to take home. I also make sure that the URL where people can download the slides appears on the last slide, so that people can copy it down onto their phones, laptops, or bits of paper they cram in their pockets.
    BTW, O Hattics, I will be addressing a class at NYU on Lojban on December 1st.

  13. The comparison of attractive founts and Apple is apt because, of course, it was the Macintosh that brought proportional founts to our PC screens, and the Apple Laserwriter that allowed us to print them.

  14. The Alto had variable-pitch fonts.

  15. Indeed, and of course Mac owed an immense amount to Xerox. Whether the Alto was a PC in the normal commercial sense … but no, I ain’t gonna nitpick.

  16. Our church choir has an alto with variable pitch, too.

  17. m-l,
    never used Powerpoint? That’s interesting. I figured that as a visual person you would prefer the format. Then again, I absolutely agree with your point on handouts – a tangible reminder, indeed. There’s also a third way – you post the presentation/summary on your blog and let the audience follow on their mobile device (e.g. Jim Davila; follow the links, too). Next step: an iPhone/Android/WebOS app for handouts. Yay brave new future!
    shame. Be sure to let me know when you’ll be heading to England – I plan to visit more often, work and Ryanair permitting.

  18. Conferences with enough sponsors to have swag often give out the slides on flash drives to attendees. Think heath care related. Not sure who that’d be for Biblical philology, though.

  19. Ideally, m-l, structural engineering would be taught in schools of Fine Arts.
    AJP, since French buildings are not falling down more often than those of other countries, I suppose that the education of architects in schools of Fine Arts does include the relevant training in scructural engineering.
    bulbul: Powerpoint: it is very thoughtful of you to give out handouts as well as showing PowerPoint. I think that linguists should do the same thing.
    When I was teaching at a university the faculty were once given a presentation about how to use PP. Unfortunately, the so-called workshop went much too fast to be useful to potential users who were not already familiar with it. But most of my students seemed to have been trained in it already and used it for “their” oral presentations.
    As I mentioned before, I have seen too many people having to struggle with the computer installations just before their conference presentations to trust the technology to work for me. I can manage the regular handouts (4 pages per sheet, like yours), so that is what I have been using.

  20. Free Powerpoint tutorials: list of microsoft tutorials, Powerpoint basics 2002/ 2007, powerpoint 2010, Powerpoint 2007 tutorial,…
    I took one of those 30-minute fast talking workshops, then just started playing with it and found it was very intuitive. There’s probably a lot I still don’t know about it, but like Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegon, if you don’t see it, you can probably get along without it. Mostly I made titles and bulleted lists for my presentations, sometimes imported maps or graphics. My courses all were almost all on Blackboard, so right before class I could go in the computer lab and download the powerpoint for the evening’s lecture–depending on the course, I like six on a page with the little lines for notes…

  21. “I think that I am a very visual person: where possible, I much prefer to look at a picture or diagram rather than read a page of explanations, but some people are confused by even simple diagrams and are more comfortable with pages of explanations. ”
    School teachers are taught to present thier material in both forms, and preferably also kinesthetically. More people are “visual learners” than are “verbal learners”. And typically most people who go into teaching are verbal learners, so it’s a real challenge for them to come up with ways to presetn stuf visually. Putting the whoel text inot bright colors isn’t it.
    M-L, you are a language person, so it’s natural, however ironic of counter-intuitive it may sound, that you are a visual rather than a verbal learner. Language people invented all kinds of visual ways of presenting information – the verb paradigm is one of the oldest examples.
    The Army, and maybe all the military, leans very heavily towards visual learners. Not only are visual menas the best way to handle spatial information, obviously, but it’s the most efficient way to handle large volumes of imformation. A briefing withourt a powerpoint slide show is not a real briefing.
    And the Ft. Leavenworth doctrine is that Powerpoint should not have big chunks of text. Chunks of text should be on hand-outs. Powerpoint is for bullet comments, or NPs as John calls them. Zen is more.

  22. I don’t have huge chunks of text either, but headlines have the advantage that they tell the story (if not the whole story) as NPs do not. Here’s one of my more recent presentations; as you can see, you hardly need me for it!

  23. Here is a 15 min. Ted Talk, with some excellent suggestions of how to do a powerpoint (or similar) presentation. It’s meant to be about how to get venture capital, but it would also be useful to anyone who’s giving a lecture.

  24. I have seen too many people having to struggle with the computer installations
    The first time I did a powerpoint presentation I carried two copies, one on the flash drive on my key chain and the other on a CD just to be prepared. Nothing went wrong. Of course the first time you try something different you may struggle even if you practice first, but only experience will make you comfortable with the technology. People are forgiving if your technology has a hiccup, especially if technology is not supposed to be your field of expertise.

  25. marie-lucie says

    John, AJP, Nijma, thank you for your advice and encouragements. I will think about it.
    When I mentioned technical difficulties I had witnessed, it was not that the presenters did not know how to use the software, it was about properly connecting their laptops with the system in the hotel or auditorium where they were scheduled to speak.

  26. I wouldn’t have a clue how to connect a laptop to any system, we use “smart classrooms” equipped with computer and pull-down screen. The last time I had to use one I simply pushed all the buttons in succession and it started to work. Later, after I asked for training, someone gave me the password and the correct sequence of buttons. Good thing, because our computer tech was just laid off. More recently I was in an auditorium type setting and couldn’t get their system to work just to play a simple CD with vocabulary exercises. I ended up reading the tapescript, which I had with me. If it’s an in-house situation you might have no recourse but to ask nicely; if it’s a matter of relationships between entities, the contact person from the entity your institution has a relationship with might be more motivated to solve your technology problems. I never back off from using unfamiliar equipment. Too often nobody is using it because it isn’t set up, and it isn’t set up because nobody tries to use it. It adds a lot to the learning experience, and once you figure out how to do it, other people start using it too.

  27. FYI, here is a very short review of the exhibition from me and a reading of Beowulf by David Crystal which is featured in the exhibition.

  28. Sounds wonderful!

  29. Always nice to hear Crystal. Very genial and informative.
    I notice that there’s also going to be a performance of sections from Beowulf tomorrow (Nov. 20) by Benjamin Bagby at the BL. It has music (totally conjectural) with a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon harp for accompaniment. I saw Bagby perform this some years back in NYC. Quite amazing.
    Worth checking out if you’re in London, though it appears to be sold out.

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