I just got a copy of Out of Oz from the library, and the first thing I notice is that the typeface is back to the Truesdell of the original Wicked, rather than the always lovely but comparatively bourgeois and anodyne Bembo of Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men. I hope this means the book is as weird as the first one was.
Archive for the ‘typography’ Category
As if it’s not enough that Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Earl of Oxford1, now we find that Jane Austen’s style was not her own, but rather the work of William Gifford, apparently the Best Editor Ever. Or so says Kathryn Sutherland, Director of the Jane Austen Manuscript Digital Edition. According to some of the many accounts (h/t: I first heard of this in a comment here),
"What I’m particularly interested in is that the manuscripts do not bear out that high degree of polished grammatical style for which Jane Austen is known"—what Ms. Sutherland calls "the exquisitely placed semicolon."
In particular, the high degree of polished punctuation and epigrammatic style we see in Emma and Persuasion is simply not there.
One of her grammatical errors was the inability to master the ‘i before e’ rule and her works were littered with distant ‘veiws’ and characters who ‘recieve’ guests.
On other occasions she wrote ‘tomatoes’ as ‘tomatas’ and ‘arraroot’ for ‘arrowroot’, which according to Professor Sutherland reflect her regional accent.
‘In some of her writing, her Hampshire accent is very strong. She had an Archers-like voice with a definite Hampshire burr,’ she said.
For some healthy skepticism about such claims see Language Log and Austenblog, with good comments to be found at both. I don’t have much to add, just to reinforce that the only real specifics in the reports are about spelling and punctuation—in rough drafts!—which really don’t detract from her “polished grammatical style.” Unless, I suppose, you’re Lynne Truss.
It’s always nice when the evidence for these bold claims is easily available online; so I had a look for myself at this new Jane archive. I have to say it’s pretty neat: whatever the merit of Professor Sutherland’s claims, she and her colleagues seem to have done great work amassing and transcribing and presenting all these manuscript pages.
The first problem in deciding what to make of Professor Sutherland’s claims on behalf of Mr Gifford is that there is virtually nothing in these manuscripts to compare with published versions. That’s right, not only are these all rough drafts, there rough drafts of things that weren’t even published. Apparently she didn’t bother to keep either rough or fair copies of the ones that were published. The only exception is a bit of Persuasion, which looks to me to be very nearly identical to chapter 24, minus the very end, of the published version (at least as it appears here), with fewer commas and more dashes. It is fascinating to look at what she crossed out and rewrote. The most interesting bit is a passage about Sir Walter Eliot’s newfound respect for Captain Wentworth, pasted over in favor of what I think is a rather less piquant version. Perhaps she decided she had already been hard enough on the Bart., or more likely that it was a little repetitive with passages earlier in the book. But it is funny:
As he saw & conversed with Capt. W. more, saw his complexion by daylight — & perceived in conversation that his Teeth were as fine as ever. — he could not but feel that in any present comparison with Anne, Capt. W. must have the advantage, that he had lost much leſs of Youth & bloom than she had, and consequently might now
Back to Jane’s alleged unpolished prose and lack of “epigrammatic style,” I suppose that one could make an argument based on the style of all these unpublished (but hardly hitherto unknown) works as compared to that of the published ones, especially those that Gifford edited. [Which, by the by, do not include Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park]. Maybe that is what Professor S means to say, but if so I haven’t heard her say it.
Oh, and and typography! Or, um, not typography, but whatever you call the handwriting equivalent (I should really know the right word, shouldn’t I?). These manuscripts are full of long s’s, the things that look like a bit f’s but aren’t (they look like ſ, with no crossbar, or sometimes a little nub on the left; italic ones generally look like integral signs; and they are simply an alternate form of plain old “s”). Jane seems to have been much more regular than many printers in her use of long s, her rule being (as far as I can tell) just that ss is always written ſs. Anyway, I had never seen any manuscript long s’s before. It turns out that they look like f’s (surprise!) with the bottom loop reversed. That would make them quick to write, I should think, with no stroke reversals (is there a technical term for that?). Here’s the word “less”:
Neat, huh? Well, I thought it was interesting.
1. That’s ridiculous, of course. Shakespeare’s plays were written by Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.
Zipping through the new books section of the library last week I came across Gregory Maguire’s A Lion Among Men, subtitled “Volume Three in the Wicked Years” (from which subtitle, new to the series—and from the fact that it introduces more threads than it seems likely to resolve—I conclude Maguire plans more Volumes in the Wicked Years). I’m now halfway through reading it aloud to the child. If you think the Wicked books are wholly inappropriate for reading aloud to one’s children, well, you’re right, but there it is.
As you’ve gathered from the title, the focus of the book is the Cowardly Lion, named Brrr, previously seen as a cub in Wicked. Brrr is (no surprise) not exactly a coward in the way of Burt Lahr, but more naive, dandified, and depressive. He comes by his sobriquet through his accidental involvement in the bloody suppression of a miners’ strike (emerald miners, that is), from which he acquires both fame and shame, as he only gradually realizes.
The story is framed by Brrr’s interview with Yackle, the mysterious crone and oracle from Wicked, on business is a Court Reporter for Emerald City magistrates, a position he seems not to have taken entirely voluntarily. She interrogates him more effectively than he interrogates her, and the bulk of the book is thus his life story, or parts of it. We also learn a little (to start with) more of her history. Meanwhile, the Clock of the Time Dragon lurks nearby…
I still haven’t figured out what I think of Maguire’s writing. I don’t mean whether it’s good—it’s very good—I mean whether I like his archly ironic juxtaposition of vaguely fantastical language with informal modern idiom, the dialogue that leaps from (intentionally) pompous fantasy-language to Victorian guttersnipe to street thug to modern American slang. Here’s the beginning of Brrr’s interview with Yackle:
It’s been a long time since I have seen Death this close up, he thought. This is Death refusing to die. She’s a centerfold for a mortuary quarterly.
“I was quite a looker in my time,” she said. Was she reading his mind, or only being smart, to know that she must be hideous?
“Oh had they invented time as long ago as that?”
“A comedian,” she observed. “I come back from the very gates of death to be interviewed by a vaudeville wannabe.”
“Let’s get started.” He flipped open his notebook. At the top of the page he wrote a note to himself: Interview One. Don’t Vomit.
And from Yackle:
“You want the three historic segments of my earthly life? I’ve lived through a good deal of these modern times, if you can call it living. I’d arrived, preaged and preshrunk, a crone at birth, just at the end of the Ozma regency, before Pastorius was deposed by the Wizard and the infant Ozma was secreted away, probably murdered…
“Following the Wizard’s abdication of the Throne, the brief and blameless twin interregnums—first of Lady Glinda, that bottle blonde, and the of the so-called Scarecrow, who came to power and left it again faster than a pile of autumn kindling responds to a winter torch.
Last year I (and the daughter) saw Wicked, The Musical (alas, in its touring incarnation, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel being long goine). It was, thought I, nothing like the book. The book was subtle, sad, disturbing, and deeply, deeply twisted, weird to the core. The play was none of those things. It was a musical about a green girl and her boyfriend, with (SPOILER ALERT!) a tacked-on happy ending. It only vaguely hinted at the intricate politics of Maguire’s Oz, at its complex societal structure, and above all at the otherworldly strangeness of it all. The characters themselves were (inevitably, in any transition from book to musical) flattened into caricatures: Glinda became a simple society airhead, Elphaba herself a bit of a wisecracker. The acrobatic flying monkeys were good, though, I’ll give it that.
A pretentious typographical note. Wicked (at least the edition I read) was set in Truesdell, a reconstruction of a lost Frederic Goudy typeface, one of his more “hand-carved” designs. It’s a strange-looking font, that put me in mind of Grimm’s grim Fairy Tales, of kobolds and gremlins and dangerously mischievous faeries, of ancient signs carved in walls of long-abandoned caves. It gave an already-strange book an even stranger affect. It may have been a bit much, but I liked it. I must be in the minority there, though, as the publishers changed the typeface for the sequels. Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men are set in Bembo. Now Bembo is a very fine typeface—one of my favorites—but it seems somehow earthbound after the creepy excess of Truesdell.
Last week someone posted an interestingly bizarre problem in the LilyPond newsgroup: using Times New Roman on Vista, the letter N becomes “Ị.” Go figure. Debugging that seemed like a fun puzzle, so I looked into it a bit, and concluded that there was a bug in the font. Someone who knows more than I do diagnosed it more completely: it turns out that the ‘post’ table assigns the name ‘N’ to three different characters, confusing LilyPond (or pango, or freetype, or whatever). Microsoft already knows that, but have no plans to do anything, presumably because Microsoft software doesn’t use the post table, and Microsoft doesn’t care about any stinkin’ software other than their own.
For reasons that escape me, this was enough to inspire me to learn what’s inside a TrueType font. The format is, not surprisingly, both simple and and Byzantine. I’ve cobbled together a python program to fix the problem with MS’s TNR. In case anyone is curious, it’s below the fold. For heaven’s sake don’t assume it won’t ruin anything you run through it.
I failed to mention the other night that the real winner of Rick Warren’s “Civil Forum” was Rick Warren. He came across as articulate and intelligent, as a devout man of God, and as a genial regular guy you’d want to be your pal. Evangelicals already knew who he was and (as far as I know) held him in pretty high regard; but I should think this exposure will also score him major points with the rest of us. His affect is nothing like that of the vile televangelists that so sully evangelical Christianity’s reputation.
Since he apparently is on good terms with both candidates, I would imagine he’s headed towards being the next Billy Graham, only without the anti-Semitism.
Mind you, this is only based on my superficial observations on Saturday. I know little about him beyond that. I started reading one of his books once, but didn’t get very far; I didn’t find it all that interesting, and pretentious type weenie me had troubles with the dreadful font1…
1Actually, it’s a fine display font, which is what it was intended to be. It’s dreadful only when abused as a text font.
I’m loving the brouhaha about whether John McCain’s ad “The One” (best watched at his website) is in fact a coded message to America’s Dispensationalists that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. I think it’s hooey, but entertaining hooey.
Before I go into details, let me maintain my loony-left moonbat cred by saying that I absolutely think the McCain campaign is fully capable of suggesting that Obama is the Beast. Weird coded messages are nothing new to politics, certainly not to modern Republicans—remember W’s apparent non-sequitur about Dred Scott? And certainly McCain and his sinister minions have shown themselves to be no more impaired by Honor and Truth than were Bush and Rove (fortunately, they seem to be considerably less competent). I just don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I wonder if they now wish they had thought of it themselves, so they could have done a better job. But I don’t think they’re that good; the ad looks to me just like what they say it is.
Now to business. Something called “The Eleison Group” has a handy memo detailing the ad’s alleged antichristiness. The gist is that the ad’s imagery and text are so similar to those of the Left Behind books—featuring, of course, an antichrist politician—that the ad must be meant to refer to the books:
Viewers will notice how similar these very odd pictures that appear in the middle of the McCain ad are to the cover art and fonts of the Left Behind series, especially to the image, font, and colors of the final book in the series that would be most recent in reader’s memories. The hidden images in the clouds and sun in the ad, which took a great deal of editing and are so strange that they had to be intentionally chosen and placed there by the McCain camp for their symbolic value, are of screaming, frantic crowds.
Mere coincidence? They think not!
I’ll be super-nerdy and start with the fonts (see the cover of the last Left Behind book here, and the ad at the link above). Yes, they look kinda similar. But then, all serif fonts look pretty much the same to most people. These do have one obvious superficial similarity—the serifless top vertices on the Ns and Ms—and they were both designed the same year (1989), but that’s about it.
The book jacket looks to me like it uses ITC Giovanni, designed by Robert Slimbach, who (quoting that description from Adobe) “based his design on classic oldstyle typefaces such as Garamond and Bembo.”
The ad uses Trajan, based not on oldstyle fonts but on Roman inscriptions. The differences are especially pronounced (I think) in the construction of the serifs, and in the spur and the on the G, but lots of the proportions are pretty different too. Check ’em out (that’s the book title on the left, Trajan on the right):
OK, maybe they look the same to you, but they don’t to a proper type geek, and any proper conspiracy theory is going to have to assume McCain’s ad guys know their type. Perhaps more to the point is that Trajan is used a lot—it’s probably the typeface a designer would be most likely to use for a political ad if s/he just couldn’t be bothered to think about it. Using Trajan needs no explanation. Actually, if you want to connect it to the Left Behind books, you’d have to explain why they didn’t just use ITC Giovanni.
So that’s a bit of a digression, but I think it applies to the imagery as well. I just don’t see anything particularly odd in those “hidden images” that “took a great deal of editing.” They just don’t look that odd to me.
Again, if the McCain camp was really trying for some heavenly image here or allusion to God shining his light on Obama or to Obama shining his own light on the people, they would have used a different image. The classic and obvious image most viewers would recognize as divine would be of the white beam of light shining down from heaven (e.g., Monty Python or Simpsons spoofs). But this is an odd orange light surrounded by darkness. So why would they not go with the classic divine light imagery?
…and another has a stair leading to heaven.
Hm, a stairway… to heaven… Nope, no non-rapture-related cultural resonance there: that imagery could only have come from Left Behind! Seriously, I don’t think that picture (and the rest) are outside the mainstream of Messiah imagery. McCain and the Left Behind designers were drawing from the same image pool.
One more. Quoting from Amy Sullivan in Time:
Perhaps the most puzzling scene in the ad is an altered segment from The 10 Commandments that appears near the end. A Moses-playing Charlton Heston parts the animated waters of the Red Sea, out of which rises the quasi-presidential seal the Obama campaign used for a brief time earlier this summer before being mocked into retiring it. The seal, which features an eagle with wings spread, is not recognizable like the campaign’s red-white-and-blue “O” logo. That confused Democratic consultant Eric Sapp until he went to his Bible and remembered that in the apocalyptic Book of Daniel, the Antichrist is described as rising from the sea as a creature with wings like an eagle.
That idiot seal was one of the Obama campaign’s silliest goofs, and the McCainiacs would certainly want to take every opportunity to remind us of it. I don’t know how many people will get the joke—I did—but even if they don’t, it does say “Obama” right on it, so it works in context anyway.
UPDATE: Had I looked even cursorily at McCain’s website I would have noticed that he (or his lackeys) use Trajan in lots of places. Definitely not Left Behind-specific.
UPDATE 2: Read the comments for more incoherently evolving thoughts.
Via Language Log, here’s a blog post/article by Helen DeWitt about the horrors of copy-editing, or rather of having one’s work copy-edited. The experience sounds hellish, and makes me glad I’m not an actual writer who might some day have to endure that indignity. It’s also makes for entertaining reading, so by all means check it out it right now.
I write about that here because of the hook, and indeed the title, Cormac McCarthy & The Semi-Colon:
[McCarthy] said at one point he had a job, he was working for someone who was writing a book that included excerpts from 18th-century writers, and he was given an assignment: Go away and fix the punctuation. So he read the texts. The writing was wonderful, he said, but the punctuation, there were semi-colons cluttering up the sentences, so he started on an essay, a piece by, it might be, Swift, and he went through and fixed the punctuation, and he gave it back to the professor who said that’s just right. So he realised that punctuation was very important. He doesn’t like semi-colons, never uses them. He uses periods, commas, capitalisation. Occasionally a colon, before a list of things
Is that shocking, or what? Well, it shocked me. From what (very little, admittedly) I’ve seen of his writing, McCarthy does not strike me as someone who would take kindly to having his own punctuation “corrected.”
Like Ms. DeWitt, l like 18th-century punctuation, in 18th century texts. Punctuation is part of the language1, and changing it changes the style and character of the writing. The exact interpretations of commas and semi-colons have clearly changed a little since Swift’s time, but any confusion and distraction they cause us moderns is (to me) very minor compared to the violence wrought by removing them altogether. And at least in my experience it takes about a minute of reading to get past the distraction.
I freely admit that this line of thought of thing pretty quickly gets into murky areas. What about modernizing spelling, for example? Is that as important to the style as punctuation? And how abut typography? Are those long S‘s2 important to the gestalt of the day, or just annoying? How about the general equivalence of u’s and v’s in older typography? The abbreviation of “the” as “ye 3?” Capitalization and italicization practices? 18th-century orthography and typographical conventions are probably close enough to our own that those are minor points, but how about Shakespeare? The older the writing, the closer reading (or editing) it becomes to reading/translating a foreign language—by the time you get to Chaucer’s Middle English it is a foreign language—and I don’t pretend to have a line to draw
Anyway, I recently ran into an actual example of de-styling 18th-century prose. Inspired by an article in The New Yorker, I’ve started reading things by Royall Tyler. It’s great stuff, about which I hope to write much more later. For now I’ll say that I started with The Bay Boy, an uncompleted semi-autobiographical novel. I thought when I read it that it seemed awfully un-18th-century—the average sentence length was too short, and there just weren’t enough commas and semi-colons. I also worried that it might have been a bit bowdlerized—having also read the “shockingly blasphemous” (Jill Lepore’s words, from that New Yorker aritcle) poem The Origin of Evil, I knew what Tyler was capable of.
And indeed I now have confirmation! The Bay Boy was a reworking of the first part of The Algerine Captive, of which I found a facsimile edition. A couple of chapters are virtually identical between the two, and so provide a comparison. Here are a couple of passages, illustrating both stylistic dumbing-down and omission of classical references so as not to confuse us benighted moderns. (Caveat: I don’t know what changes Tyler himself might have made, but I strongly suspect nothing in these examples). First, a few passages from the modernized Bay Boy:
The same afternoon a tall, raw-boned man called me to the door, immediately collaring me with one hand, and holding a cart whip over my head with the other. With fury in his face he vowed he would whip the skin from my bones if I ever struck Jotham again. Aye, he would do it that moment if he was not afraid I would take the law on him…
Fatigued with the vexations of my school, I one evening repaired to the tavern and mixed with some of the young men of the town. Their conversation I could not relish, as the subject was race horses. I thought of famous horses in Greek history, but they had never heard of them…
I was about retiring, fatigued and disgusted, when it was hinted to me that I should wait on Miss Mina home. I declined. Rumors were spread about me throughout the town…
And the far more robust original:
The same afternoon, a tall raw-boned man called me to the door: immediately collaring me with one hand, and holding a cart-whip over my head with the other, with fury in his face, he vowed he would whip the skin from my bones if I ever struck Jotham again: ay, he would do it that very moment, if he was not afraid I would take the law of him…
Fatigued with the vexations of my school, I one evening repaired to the tavern, and mixed with some of the younger men of the town. Their conversation I could not relish; mine they could not comprehend. The subject of racehorses being introduced, I ventured to descant upon Xanthus, the immortal courser of Achilles. They had never heard of ’squire Achilles or his horse; but they offered to bet two to one that Bajazet, the Old Roan, or the deacon’s mare, Pumpkin and Milk, would beat him, and challenged me to appoint time and place…
I was about retiring, fatigued and disgusted, when it was hinted to me, that I might wait miss Mima home; but as I could recollect no word in the Greek which would construe into bundling, or any of Homer’s heroes who got the bag, I declined. In the Latin, it is true, that Æneas and Dido, in the cave, seem something like a precedent. It was reported all over town the next day, that master was a papish, as he had talked French two hours.
I am giving serous thought to seeing if I can spend a day at the Vermont Historical Society perusing Tyler’s original manuscripts.
1 Of the written language, that is, but we’re talking about writing here. Written and spoken languages are obviously different—in interesting ways—but I’m not competent to say much about that.
2 Long s looks like the letter f, but doesn’t have a whole crossbar, just a nub on the left side, or nothing at all: ſ.
3 That “y” was originally a thorn (þ).
For no particular reason I downloaded Safari for Windows and OMG MY EYES! THE GOGGLES, THEY DO NOTHING!
It seems that Safari ignores Windows’ native font rendering—ClearType, on my machine—and use Apple’s own, Quartz. I would have expected them to be more or less the same, as they both mostly rely on subpixel rendering. But it turns out Quartz ignores TrueType hinting, relying only on the subpixel anti-aliasing, which is to say, blurrification. It’s especially noticeable in the vertical direction, where subpixels help not at all.
Apparently—and I don’t know how authoritative this is—Apple in its wisdom chose to ignore hinting in order to Preserve Design Intent. TrueType hints force features of glyphs to the pixel grid, meaning that some strokes get thinner and some thicker, that relative weights of bold and regular styles are distorted, that curves flatten out, and spacing can be a bit wonky. Relying solely on antialiasing does mitigate those problems, at the cost of blurring (and chromatic fringing, with subpixel renderers).
Windows’ ClearType does respect hinting, at least to some extent. Much as it pains me to say it, I’m with Microsoft on this one. [Caveat: ClearType’s effectiveness depends enormously on the monitor. It looks great on the relatively high-res laptop I’m using now. I’ve tried it on other monitors (yes, LCD ones) where it was unbearable. I imagine it depends heavily on the user as well.]
Now preserving design intent does make an enormous amount of sense in some contexts. If you’re actually trying to lay out a page for printing, font distortion is bad, and a bit of blurring is no biggie. Were I a graphic designer I’m sure I’d demand the better approximation of font weights and glyph shapes and positions and not care about the blurring.
But I’m not a graphic designer, I’m just some guy trying to read stuff on the web. I care much more about not getting a headache than about the aesthetic qualities of lower-case g’s descender. I can read slightly malformed but clear fonts much more easily than blurry ones.
Even from a philosophical point of view “design intent” is a tricky concept. TrueType hints are design intent. A lot of effort went into hinting Georgia and Verdana and the other core web fonts. So does the real intent reside entirely in the glyph outlines, or in the hinting as well? Well, really it sort of depends. Print and screen are different contexts (they will converge as screen resolutions get higher, but they haven’t yet), and good designers design for both. Apple, it seems to me, does not respect the latter. For a desktop publishing program that would make sense. But we’re talking about a web browser here.
[Yes, there are lots of crappily hinted fonts out there, including some that are beautiful in print. With those Quartz can look much nicer than ClearType, even to me. But a well-desgined website really should not use those fonts.]
It may be that were I a Mac person I would be used to Apple’s rendering and find Windows’ godawful and primitive. But I’m not. Does Apple want to show us benighted Windows drudges The Light? If so, it’s not working. I want Windows apps to act like Windows apps—consistency is important. Safari want to act like a Mac app, both in rendering and in a few other ways, things like the way it displays its scrollbars (yes, that’s pretty trivial). The weird part is that Apple understands better than anyone else the importance of strict user interface guidelines. Do they care about them only when the guidelines are their own?
I seem to be on fonts now.
I just ran across an article entitled, “Why Bembo Sucks.” Intrigued–I love Bembo, I think it’s one of the very nicest of typefaces (also, see this!)–I read it, and found that it’s really about “why digital fonts (often) suck” and “why inappropriate and poorly used fonts suck.” It’s a great article; if you’re into this sort of thing, go read it now. One of the main points is that digital fonts tend to be pale and lifeless imitations of their metal originals (many of which, including Bembo, are in turn copies of much older and quirkier typography).
This seemingly superfluous dilemma [which original point size of a metal font to digitize] can only be truly understood when the original metal typefaces are seen in print. Oh, what a joyous sight! The subtle variation of letterform, the slight impression into the paper, the vibrant warmth of a page of text. It is not only beautiful, but an absolute delight to read. The effect of these typefaces is impossible to emulate with their insipid digital ghosts. Modern printing has become so perfect, so uniform and precise that the spirit of the original is crushed. It is like spending a lifetime slurping instant coffee and never experiencing a proper espresso.
That’s a well-known problem with digital typefaces. The great Edward Tufte even went so far as to design his own digital Bembo, having found Monotype’s existing digitization unbearable (there is now what looks like a better one).
Not long ago I was struck by this when reading two books, both set in Fairfield, back-to-back. Here are two examples from books I just picked up off the pile on our coffee table:
Maybe you can’t tell from my lousy scans, but I find the older one much livelier and more interesting. The newer one also doesn’t bother with the double-f ligatures (lazybones typesetters!).