Friday, February 15, 2013

Quick Sketch:Typography

watercolor on Strathmore paper
I've always been fascinated by letterforms and with my recent delve back into German language it seemed appropriate to look at these, the ess-set and umlauts.

Umlauts are those two little dots that appear over vowels to change their pronunciation, and only a, o, and u. The ess-set is a little tricky.

It is used in words spelled with a double S like Gross (large) which then would traditionally be spelled Große. It isn't always used in handwriting and is some times used in print for the two S spelling in modern German. Old High German is different. The ess-set was always used. And when the ess-set got into English via monarchial alliances via marriage it was simplified into a shape best described as an elongated f. And that complicates English for a modern reader who reads print from as recent as the 1700s because we see Wafhington instead of Washington... I don't know who decided to use the adapted ess-set for a single S spelling... but yikes! What a typographical nightmare.

And in German the nightmare just begins! Some German words can have more than two of a letter together. German doesn't contract either words to make a compound. It all gets crammed together. So if you were to take Gross+Stadt to mean "Big City" (because in German it would be a single word rather than two as in English) then it would be spelled "Großstadt".

Can you have four S spellings? I don't know. But I wouldn't want to try to pronounce it!

I love the shape of the ess-set. So I will probably play with it some more. No. I will play with it more. And now I kinda want to find a German scrapbooking supply company that would have a die cut for that.


edited: later that evening in a studio somewhere in Northern Michigan

 *** Checking with Wikipedia BEFORE writing might be helpful.
Turns out the ß is actually the ligature of a long S (the thing that looks like an f) and a single s or z. So apparently the long f-looking s is a special brand of stupidity common throughout Europe that came here and got wiped out with better typography. Thank God.... it is hard enough to read fraktur or black letter fonts on a good day. If we still had to deal with this thing on a regular basis I think I would pull out all my hair. It is beautiful. I love ligatures and dipthongs. But that long S can not hang out in English these days with the volume of text read on a daily basis.

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