It is early here in the States, we are a bit snowed in and today is day 1 of my mid winter break. It is also day 11 of Blogging University with WordPress. You will have noticed the new tag appeared a few days ago. I joined #blogging101 to continue to improve the writing, build community and, most importantly, help me understand the more technical aspects to building a better blog. The advantage for you, besides the more professional product, is that it reminds me there is more to my blog than food. Though you all seem to like those posts much better than anything else.
Today we were directed to daily prompts. But the page had a HUGE banner for the photo challenge put out by WordPress. The topic was Alphabet. And Holy Duh!, I never ever wrote that post about the header for the blog. I always meant to. I got sidetracked by food. But then, don’t we all?
The technical term for portraits of a typographical family is Exemplar. It is a Latin word that simply means example. When you are studying typography or learning calligraphy, your first assignments will be the make exemplars of you favorite fonts. I am a sucker for fonts. Specifically, I am a sucker for English and German foundries (the company that makes the font). But I have also had a weird obsession with specific characters since I was a kid. One of them is the letter G because my maternal grandparents surname is Gerbstadt (anglicized). When I took German in High School, I learned that there are more than 26 ways to write letters. My other favorite letter is ß, eszett.
Eszett is a ligature. That means that two consonants sit close enough together in a line of type to be linked. For readability and fitting type to a column of text ligatures are often designed as a separate character. Th and Fl are two very common ligatures in English. Long s and z, ss, and sss, are the most common in German.
In documents around the 1700s you will find a letter that looks like a fancy F in the middle of words. I first encountered it in patriotic papers of the American Revolution where George Washington’s name looked as if it was spelled Wafhington. That is the long s form we are talking about. Why did they use that? I don’t know, probably to accommodate letters in a line of print. It was confusing as a kid and most likely was the source of my fascination with fonts. I’d always loved calligraphy, writing seemed like magic. But the way letter fit on a page… that’s typography and that was an intriguing mystery.
Wikipedia says that the oldest documented use of eszett was in 1300 AD. The rules for using it have been inconsistent and in dispute ever since it’s first usage. The eszett is almost extinct in print these days. I don’t know why, it is a beautiful letter and in our modern era there is no justifiable lament of its cost. Back when Gutenberg invented the printing press all the letters were formed from cast iron, thus, a typography design house is called a foundry. The shapes were carved, then cast then mounted on tiny wooden blocks and set in trays for ease of use to the typesetter. (The person who set individual letters on the lines to be printed in the press.) Iron cost money, wood blocks cost money and the more dividers in a tray for the setter to pull from, the greater the likelihood of an error. Today we have all manner of digital print. The eszett should be making a comeback. But then… cursive writing is falling out of form as well. The art of German lettering is fading.
The eszett is a beautiful letter. But I am biased because my other two favorite letters are s and z.
There are several languages across the globe that use a typographic device of a dot above letters to indicate a change of pronunciation. In Hebrew it is a dagesh, a dot that indicates a long or short vowel pronunciation or, as in the case of consonants, a change from b to v or s to sh, ch to ck. In German, this device is called an umlaut, two dots side by side that appears only over vowels to indicate a pronunciation change.
In early print works you will find a bizarre combination of A and E written together, æ and Æ. Or, most often just side by side. Two reasons for this, one is so that no one would have to carve the umlaut shapes for casting for the smallest point sizes. And two, because in print the umlauts would be indistinguishable from inconsistencies in paper or voids in the inking process. The umlaut is a tough character for a printer in the best of circumstances. With the advent of typewriters which print at a consistent point size, German typewriting machines could have separate keys for each umlaut vowel. In print when there is no umlaut designed for the font, these letters are translated as ae, oe, ue. This influence is noticeable in English spelling, such words as doe and glue, though the pronunciations have changed over time from the 1500s and again from British English to American English. Having read an article a long time ago on why we still spell knife with a k that is my supposition at any rate.
The Ö and Ü pronunciations, standing alone, are simply elongated versions of the original. In the above example möglich is pronounced with a long o as in moo. Fühlen and Grüßen are pronounced with a long u as in the English word glue the eszett is a double s like hiss.
The Ä, standing alone as in Städte is a long a as in the English hay. when paired with another vowel, changes puts the emphasis is on the a sound, long with the English y, clipping it a bit as in the English word Hey!
The Latin et , and , is the source of the ampersand. I suspect this was the first contraction for the explicit purpose of making the typesetter’s job easy. Given the liberal and artistic use of the ampersand in decor I surmise it is the most favored typographical device.
The ampersand is the ligature of e and t. Again, to make the typesetter’s job easier and get the words to fit the lines with uniformity, the ampersand is a space saving device. A separate block for e and a separate block for t in this two letter word would read funny. So to eliminate the gap between them which is imposed by the block spacing of the point size the two letters became one. This also reserves the use of the e and t for regular words, enabling the typesetter to achieve larger blocks of printable text.
It is also why the & is used instead of and. The one character frees up three in the printing process. While it is not a strictly German design device, the exemplar above let’s me give a shout out to my favorite song on the album Seben Leben . And no discussion on typographic notation is complete without it.