Friday, March 13, 2009

Kindred Spirits

When you’re passionate about something, it’s always nice to discover that you’re not the only one who feels thus. For example, it used to bug me no end that the keyboard doesn’t have a proper apostrophe (or proper open and close quotation marks for that matter). That inverted teardrop prime symbol that passes for an apostrophe simply cannot compare in form and beauty with its curly cousin. On my blog, I painstakingly type ’ every time I want an apostrophe. Not too many bloggers I know do that, but then again, law school is not the best place to find typography enthusiasts. But books on typography are a different story altogether! Look what I found in A Type Primer by John Kane:

This is a good time to point out that a prime ( ' ) is not a single quote or an apostrophe, nor are double primes quotes. […] Because of the limited number of keys, they were used on typewriters as substitutes for single and double quotes and apostrophes, and came to be known as ‘dumb quotes’. When used as quotes in typesetting, they aren’t just ‘dumb’ – they’re criminal.

Similar passions were aroused in the breast of American type designer Frederic Goudy (1865-1947) by the practice of letterspacing. Since I know none of you will go look it up if I provide the Wikipedia link, I’ll just explain letterspacing myself. It is the practice of adjusting the amount of space between a group of letters, typically done to correct unsightly typographical flaws. In other words, it is a cheap trick, a short-cut. Here is what the redoubtable Mr. Goudy had to say about the practice:

Any man who would letterspace blackletter would steal sheep.

We use Goudy Stout, a typeface designed by him, for the masthead of our university magazine/newsletter. Substituting our own aesthetic judgment for that of Mr. Goudy, we letterspace it by minus 9 pt.

We think we know better.

Ironic, isn’t it?

5 comments:

Anand said...

Yes but the masthead is repeated in a different font on the page headers...why is that?

ಕವನ said...

The prime doesn't trouble me after years of coding in user interfaces that cared not for typography; Letterspacing I like to fiddle with.

Have you seen this yet:
http://www.squidspot.com/Periodic_Table_of_Typefaces/Periodic_Table_of_Typefaces_large.jpg

Tommy said...

I use proper curly quotes in printed matter, and ugly plain ones on the web. There's still a bit of software out there that doesn't handle UTF correctly, and I dread the idea of someone forwarding my text and the quotes getting mangled in the process.

Rahul Saha said...

You could always say, "and I quote" and "end quote".

Sroyon said...

@Anand: The font we use in the page headers is too small. Using an elaborate font like Goudy Stout will compromise legibility.

@ಕವನ: I hadn't before, but now I have. Great stuff!

@Tommy: Ah, but then I don't go around slapping "Best viewed with any browser you want" labels on my blog. :)

@Saha: I could, but then again I don't suffer from chronic narcissism. (Latest post might call that into question though.)