Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Typographic illiteracy

My wife asked me after I complained about some information on a cereal box Starting With Capital Letters As If It Were a Title: who cares? Yes, it doesn't make sense, but what's the big deal?

Well, to someone who knows about these things, it "cuts the eye", as a Russian expression goes. It's like bad writing to a literate person. Like bad breath to someone who has a sense of smell.

Artemiy Lebedev gives an interesting example of this. Yesterday, when I was visiting a local library, I saw a sign, where letters were squeezed to fit into a certain horizontal space but remain a certain height. As a result, their proportion was ruined. It looked something like this:

Most people probably don't notice such things. But to someone who knows very-very little about the fonts, it "cuts the eye". The opposite (bloating letters) is also true. As Lebedev writes, "A person who knows something about fonts chuckles at the sight of bloated letters like a child who’s seeing his reflection in a fun-house mirror".

In short, the effect on "squeezing" letters is the same as doing this to a photograph (source):

Now, not all cultures have appreciation for all aspects of beauty. Germans have a bad sense of humor. English people, as is known, kill their food twice: first, when they kill it, and second, when the cook it. French don't appreciate the value of deodorants and clean hair. Russians and Americans have the "imperial font complex" where all notices are written in caps (plus, Americans place their punctuation inside quotes).

Chinese do not mind shifting the original proportions of a photograph (source):


e said...

In Santa Barbara, whenever I would do anything grammar Nazi-like, people would complain, "language is to communicate. As long as the point gets across, who cares if it was expressed 'correctly'?"

After a while I realized that one can have an aesthetic feeling for language, just like one can have an aesthetic feeling for pictures. So I no longer felt challenged by them and continued my grammar Nazi ways.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

Well, speaking is also all about communication. But people don't like it when someone swears or has bad breath. Clothing is all about tznius and warmth, but one is looked down if he wears brown dress pants and a blue sleeveless striped shirt. (Maybe not in Manhattan.)

le7 said...

Some of us cringe when we see notices with all caps (that are bolded AND underlined to add insult to the injury).

Certified Ashkenazi said...

How did it happen that a bunch of posts of Chanan's link to this post?