Speaking of reference books . . .


I just came across the lapsed bloglet Zimmer’s Words of the Week, which appears to have been abandoned some time in April. The archives are full of good stuff, though, much of it from the wonderful Erin‘s Weird and Wonderful books. Consider, for example,

bouffage [boo-FAHG]
a filling meal. From an Old French word glossed in the OED with a quote from Cotgrave as ‘any meat that (eaten greedily) fills the mouth, and makes the cheeks to swell; cheeke-puffing meat.’ (Weird & Wonderful Word of the Week, 2/21/08)
petrichor [PET-rih-kor]
the pleasant smell that sometimes accompanies rain, especially the first rain after a period of warm dry weather. (Weird & Wonderful Word of the Week, 1/10/08)
semordnilap [sem-ORD-nih-lap]
a word that spells a different word when written backwards (“semordnilap” is “palindromes” spelled backwards). “Drawer” is a semordnilap, because backwards it spells reward. If this makes you uneasy, you might have aibohphobia, ‘fear of palindromes.’ (Weird & Wonderful Word of the Week, 4/10/08)

Continue reading “Speaking of reference books . . .”

Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question

disgusted cat

Even though their CD-ROM and its tech support suck, I still love the Chicago Manual of Style Q&A:

Q. I’m editing a textbook that references a play. Should it be “Act 3,” “act three,” or “act 3”? A solution to this mystery would be greatly appreciated. I’ve looked at CMOS a hundred times for help with this issue.

A. Wow—a hundred times? If you can suggest how we can make section 8.194 more clear, we’ll try to do better in the next edition: “Words denoting parts of long poems or acts and scenes of plays are usually lowercased, neither italicized nor enclosed in quotation marks . . . act 3, scene 2.”


Q. At the annual meeting of our local PBK chapter, dispute on the pronunciation of “archival” arose: whether the stress falls on the first or the second syllable. Give us your wisdom. I will pass it on in the column I write weekly in a local paper about any subject that pops into my head.

A. As a style guide for writers, CMOS must resist the temptation to weigh in on an issue of pronunciation. We are editors, absorbed in our manuscripts. We can go for days without even speaking. I suggest you consult the linguists who write dictionaries for this purpose. (I’m sorry this won’t give you anything to put in your column, but thanks for your help with mine.)


Q. Is it “cell phone” or “cel phone”? I am working on a crash deadline, and would appreciate a quick response. Thank you so much!

A. Any writer who has deadlines should also have a dictionary. I always swear I’m not going to look up words for people, but it’s like being a mom and picking up socks—something just makes me do it. It’s “cell phone.”

Please buy a dictionary—and pick up your socks.

  Continue reading “Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question”

And attendance is the other 50 percent of your grade.

Free Hand Penmanship Series Writing Charts

Fonts can shape reality in intangible ways, as Phil Renaud, a graphic designer from Phoenix, discovered when he studied the relationship between his grades and the fonts he used for his college papers. Papers set in Georgia, a less common font with serifs, generally received A’s while those rendered in Times Roman averaged B’s.

—Peter Wayner, “Down With Helvetica: Design Your Own Font,” New York Times, June 26, 2008

Man, that’s why I got those B’s in college: Georgia hadn’t yet been designed.

(Thanks, Rose!)

. . .

In other news, I just registered for TypeCon again. Anybody else going?

A-lines are always in style

five A-frame designs from Print magazine's Flickr slideshow

Brainiac Josh Glenn takes issue with Steven Heller’s facile assertion that although “The human leg has evolved continually over many eons, adapting from an underwater propeller to its current form . . . on book covers and on film and theater posters, the leg has evolved very little.”

I hate to quibble with the master, since I’m a fan of Heller’s books. But this time he hasn’t put his best leg forward. Even a cursory glance at the leg-scenarios on display in Heller’s Print essay — and at Print Magazine’s A-Frame photoset at Flickr — indicate that the A-Frame is forever evolving.

The Flickr set is not entirely work-safe, but do check it out if nobody’s looking over your shoulder. Much excellence therein.

Now I just have to think of some excuse to put an A-frame illustration on the front of Nextbook.org . . .

So I guess there’s no Klingon italic, either


The term “Roman” is customarily used to describe serif typefaces of the early Italian Renaissance period. More recently, the term has also come to denote the upright style of typefaces, as opposed to the word “Italic”, which refers to cursive typefaces inspired by the handwriting of Italian humanists. Thus Linotype offers fonts called Sabon Greek Roman and Sabon Greek Italic, (designed by Jan Tchichold), based on 16th century models. But by using terminology which is typically associated with Latin type and evokes the history of Italian typography, Linotype makes a careless statement. “Greek Roman” and “Greek Italic” are contradictions in terms, mixing two very different histories.

—Peter Biłak, “A View of Latin Typography in Relationship to the World,” Het Wereld Boek (Amsterdam, 2008), reprinted at Typotheque

Huh. Now that you mention it, yes, that sounds stupid.

Photo: Mandragoras by sp!ros; some rights reserved.

Meet me at the Pilcrow & Capitulum


Like most punctuation, the paragraph mark (or pilcrow) has an exotic history. It’s tempting to recognize the symbol as a “P for paragraph,” though the resemblance is incidental: in its original form, the mark was an open C crossed by a vertical line or two, a scribal abbreviation for capitulum, the Latin word for “chapter.” . . .

In any case, Pilcrow & Capitulum would make a fine name for a pub . . .

—Jonathan Hoefler at Typography.com. I like the way this man thinks.

¶ I enjoy using pilcrows (HTML entity ¶, in case you want one of your own); perhaps we need to find some new uses for this character.

¶ I mean, besides the obvious—T-shirts!

The Charles Montgomery Burns Award for Blogging

Last week Stephen Tiano was so kind as to select this blog as one of ten he rated “Excellent,” as part of a pay-it-forward linky thing. Thanks, Steve!

I’m not sure I like the Enron-style logo for the project—

Excellent blog logo

—but I certainly appreciate the kind notice.

Some of the relevant sites that I follow have already been flagged for this thing:

I Love Typography
words / myth / ampers & virgule
Publishing Careers
The Penguin Blog

and I’ve discovered a few new ones by clicking back through the previous honorees. Yay! That’s the point.

But here are ten that I don’t think are duplicates:

  • Cozy Lummox — Eric Skillman’s design process blog. Eric is becoming, like, totally famous.
  • Zina Saunders @ Drawger — Not only beautiful artwork, but also interesting interviews with artists and art directors
  • Right-reading — Tom Christensen’s eclectic mix of mostly book-related stuff
  • Smashing Magazine — Is it a blog? Is it a magazine? I don’t know, but it’s been really useful.
  • Bittbox — Strangely impersonal—posts are written in the first person, but I can’t figure out who that “I” refers to—but, again, who cares? Lots of useful stuff.
  • Copyranter — Possibly the only upside to the world’s being plastered with advertising is that it fuels a constant stream of criticism from Copyranter, much of which amuses me. (As a bonus, his office is somewhere within a block of mine—maybe in the same building—so I’ve winced firsthand at many of the ads he skewers.)
  • Coudal Partners — “If browsing around here while at work has had a negative effect on your productivity we’re sorry but imagine what it’s done to ours.” No kidding. I find it hard to believe that they’re actually a functioning design firm, with all the blogging they do.
  • Chris Glass — I don’t know how Chris gets any work done, either, but he’s got a great del.icio.us feed, and now also a glass tumblr.
  • Elisabethsblog — Okay, so it’s in Norwegian (how peculiar!); but most of the sites she highlights are in English, so just click each link and see where you end up.
  • Throwing Music — Totally off-topic, but as I mentioned over at Clusterflock, I am really in love with the writing of Kristin Hersh (of the bands Throwing Muses and 50FootWave, as well as a distinguished solo career). She sends out gorgeous letters to her e-mail list, too. Today’s was brilliant.
  • Clusterflock — Which it’s “a group blog dedicated to pretty much everything; by people you would like to meet at a party; . . . dedicated to culture: art, design, music, food, architecture, science, travel, movies, books, typography, politics, etc.; inclusive of geezers!; a delightful mixture of orange words and pictures of well, the insides of a stuffed animal—delightful all the same.” Something for everyone, though perhaps not all on the same day.

Um, okay, that was eleven. But this kind of thing is extremely difficult for a scatterbrain who has more than 400 feeds in her RSS reader. Ask me again tomorrow; I’ll have a different list.

Interview with Peter Mendelsund

book covers by Peter Mendelsund

A lot of great stuff in this interview with Peter Mendelsund by Christopher Tobias at design:related:

I definitely gravitate towards using illustration, in general, more than photography in book jackets; and the more abstract the better. I think this approach leaves more to the reader’s imagination. It’s easier to be evocative without being literal. Though, upon reflection, those geometric jackets were to some extent influenced by the fact that they were all designed in Quark, which, really because of the limitations of the software, one finds oneself designing with the most accessible tools—boxes, circles, in flat colors or simple blends on top of art. It’s more tempting in that environment to simply place a shape on top of art. In PhotoShop, or InDesign, of course, because of the ease of blending layers, compositions tend to be denser, shapes more amorphous, and the final result, well, more photographic. We need software updates here at Knopf.

Cant. Stick. To. Just. One. Quote. . . .
Continue reading “Interview with Peter Mendelsund”

I say! A subterranean semicolon!

laser semicolon

[W]hatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how.

In fact, when Mr. Neches was informed by a supervisor that a reporter was inquiring about who was responsible for the semicolon, he was concerned.

“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said.

From “Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location” by Sam Roberts, New York Times, 2/18/08.

I am a big fan of the semicolon, myself; it’s an extremely useful punctuation mark.

(Thanks, Rob!)

Photo: laserColon laserSemiColon by Andrew Plumb / ClothBot; some rights reserved.