Latin is all Greek to me

Type rule of thumb: use Lorem Ipsum for "greeking-in" text on layouts

When designs are required before text is provided, greeking is a method of filling in where the text will go by sketching horizontal lines with a pencil, or, with the advent of design software, by dropping Latin dummy text into columns. read more…

At’s what we’re talking about

Ray TomlinsonThe at symbol’s  roots are late medieval. Scribes perhaps created a shortcut ligature of the Latin ad (to or at).The first documented use was in a letter by Francesco Lapi in 1536. The Florentine merchant used @ to denote units of wine called amphorae (large clay jars). Business has long used it to signify “at the rate of,” and it was in such common use by the 19th century that it was included on typewriters as early as 1885. There was no place for @ in traditional typesetting, so there was no nook for the character in the California Job Case.

‘@’ has long been associated with retail sales and accountancy, but in 1971, Ray Tomlinson (23 April, 1941–5 March, 2016) was working on a way to communicate over a new computer network—the predecessor of the modern-day Internet. “I looked at the keyboard, and I thought: What can I choose here that won’t be confused with a username?” The at sign was an easy choice; it wasn’t commonly used in computing, so there would be no confusion. “It’s the only preposition on the keyboard.”

Use italics for emphasis

Use italics, not boldface, for emphasis

Italics are the elegant way to emphasize text. Bold faces are for headlines, posters or logos. Bold type breaks up the flow and degrades the readability of text just as words or phrases in all caps are like blotches in a column of type. Type often comes in extended families of varying weights, but as Robert Bringhurst said of boldface (which did not exist until the nineteenth century), “The marriage of type and text requires courtesy to the in-laws, but it does not mean that all of them ought to move in, nor even that all must come to visit.”

And cool it on the exclamations.


Ye olde deliberate antiquarianism…

Ye Olde Whatever...

“Ye” was pronounced “the.”
“Ye” is a 16th century substitution of a ‘y’ for an Old English character known as the thorn (‘þ’), originally a Germanic rune that represented the interdental th sound. read more…

Virgulilla: doubly diminutive

Bottle of vino Virgulilla, tilde, rasgoVirgulilla is Spanish for something like ‘an accent or mark.’ It refers to what in English we call the ‘tilde’ (which probably also derives from the Spanish*), but can also mean any diacritical mark resembling a comma, line or dash. The tilde originates from Latin as a “mark of suspension” in place of omitted letters in abbreviations (e.g., Anno Domini would be Aº Dñi). And, according to one source, medieval scribes abbreviated the phoneme “nn” as “n~” in order to distinguish it from “m.” Placing the mark above the n saved space (vellum was expensive). read more…

Indecorous display

b-kliban-barf-bold-a-decorative-typeface©1982 B. Kliban — Notice that he didn’t use the current term “font”

Bernard “Hap” Kliban (1935–1990) offered Barf Bold, a Decorative Typeface in one of his hilarious cartoon collections in the early ’80s. Kliban created the cartoon genre that consisted of a single panel with a droll, third person narration (e.g., “Houdini escaping from New Jersey”), a style which Gary Larson of “The Far Side” later became famous for.

Kliban’s correct use of the term “decorative typeface” (he could have also used “display face”) is especially notable now that most people use the term “font” broadly to mean a printed face, a typographic family, a specific typeface, or (correctly) the licensed software that allows us to reproduce type on our computers.


Epigram, epithet, epigraph, epitaph…

epitaph for Mel BlancThe language quarterly Verbatim once published a mnemonic, in the form of a poem, to help us differentiate between these similar-sounding, but not-to-be-confused words.

Primer by David Galef, Oxford, Mississippi

The epigram’s a pithy saying, Full of paradox and wit.
The epithet’s a brief description. A clever name that scores a hit.
The epigraph’s a type of preface, Like the lead-in to a writ.
The epitaph is seen on tombstones, Related to who’s under it.
All four are commonly confused, But in each usage, three don’t fit.