Friday, 29 May 2009

Mountain out of a molehill

This extraordinary boxed set of 20 volumes has been hewn out of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows by Egmont Publishing. (The box even has a drawer underneath the bookshelf – presumably for keeping your coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinsaladfrenchrollcresssandwidgespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater –)

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Size matters

Alexander Chancellor’s piece in yeasterday’s Guardian is worth quoting:

‘I still have a copy of the New York Times from 12 September 2001, the day after the twin towers collapsed in the worst terror attack in American history. The event merited what may also have been the biggest headline in the history of the New York Times – the words US ATTACKED in one-inch-high capitals across the top of the front page. The paper has never screamed so loudly since. But this month, day after day, the Daily Telegraph has been carrying headlines just as big over developments that, whatever their importance, cannot remotely be compared to the events of 9/11.

‘Even yesterday, on the 14th day of its drip-drip exposure of MPs’ expenses, Bill Wiggin’s “phantom mortgage” and Sir Peter Viggers’s floating duck island were given headlines in the same type-size as that used by the New York Times on that momentous day. One wonders how the Telegraph, having already blown its loudest bugle, would respond to a truly shattering piece of news, such as the outbreak of the third world war.

‘The Telegraph is rightly proud of its scoops, but with its overblown presentation it has weakened rather than amplified their impact. If you excessively hype news that doesn’t need hyping, the news starts to seem less important than it actually is. Apart from which, as London’s only remaining broadsheet newspaper, with an old-fashioned gothic masthead like the New York Times, the Telegraph creates expectations of calm and restraint that, as the NYT does, it ought to try to meet.’

Monday, 18 May 2009

Where’s the script, Eurovision?

I may have missed something – distracted by Miss Azerbaijan, perhaps? – but I came away from Saturday’s songfest feeling that the Cyrillic alphabet had been well and truly hidden. The inter-act sequences featured three-dimensional letters flying through Moscow, but all that I can remember is that they looked like Helvetica, not which script they were. And the far more prominent ‘postcards’ shown between each song featured Russian words, but only in a Roman transliteration. And in English transliteration and translation, too.

Transliterating Russian can cause problems between western European languages, as shown by the problem of Чайкóвский = Tchaikovsky = Tschaikowsky = Chaikovski (apparently this is the Library of Congress’s preferred form). Did the Russian tv producers think that integration with Eurovision meant keeping the non-Western national alphabet under wraps? But again, maybe it was just another aspect of the domination of World English – only the most determinedly Francophone countries stuck to French when casting their votes.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Collocation, collocation, collocation

Do you think it is likely that Stuart Proffitt, the publishing director of Penguin Press, actually said ‘People in the book business are always saying there’s a crisis and we’re going to hell in a handbasket’? Handbasket? We usually descend to the infernal region in a handcart, which has the advantage of wheels to facilitate the onward motion. A handbasket would require a slippery slope of a considerably steeper angle to initiate the slide towards doom.

Or was Mr Proffitt correctly transcribed by the Guardian? Perhaps a distant memory of Margaret Thatcher’s demonic handbag was in his mind at the time. Perhaps he believes we have a dog-in-hell’s chance, or that hell might melt over?

Monday, 11 May 2009

Pooh and typography

1. Consistency, redundancy, reading order, and calls to action

Owl lived at The Chestnuts, an old-world residence of great charm, which was grander than anybody else’s, or seemed so to Bear, because it had both a knocker and a bell-pull. Underneath the knocker there was a notice which said:

PLES RING IF AN RNSER IS REQIRD.

Underneath the bell-pull there was a notice which said:

PLEZ CNOKE IF AN RNSR IS NOT REQID.

These notices had been written by Christopher Robin, who was the only one in the forest who could spell; for Owl, wise though he was in many ways, able to read and write and spell his own name WOL, yet somehow went all to pieces over delicate words like MEASLES and BUTTEREDTOAST.

Winnie-the-Pooh read the two notices very carefully, first from left to right, and afterwards, in case he had missed some of it, from right to left. Then, to make quite sure, he knocked and pulled the knocker, and he pulled and knocked the bell-rope, and he called out in a very loud voice, “Owl! I require an answer! It’s Bear speaking.” And the door opened, and Owl looked out.

from A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). Drawing by E. H. Shepard