Hoist the bare aluminum pole, my friends: today is Festivus, which means it’s time once again for my favorite holiday tradition, The Airing of Grievances.
For this year’s A of G—the sixth in a series—I’ve gathered some of the worst offenders from the world of marketing: the gaffes, goofs, and boneheaded blunders that we’ll recall for as long as schadenfreude remains in season.
“Years ago, I asked one of my mentors what he thought was the hardest part of designing a typeface. I was expecting ‘the cap S’ or ‘the italic lowercase’ or something like that. But he answered without hesitation: the name. Finding the name is the hardest part.” (Tobias Frere-Joneson the names of typefaces, via Michael Bierut)
“Can I stipulate the awesomeness of a lawsuit based on parts of speech?” Ben Yagoda on the trademark dispute between management consultant Dov Seidman and yogurt maker Chobani over the slogan “How Matters.” (Lingua Franca)
In a tribute to Hayao Miyazaki, director of My Neighbor Totoro and many other brilliant animated films, a new species of velvet worm has been namedEoperipatus totoro. (Via Tom Moultrie)
Eoperipatus totoro. Catbus in My Neighbor Totoro.
“Foodster,” “chefstaurateur,” “drool-worthy”: the food site Eater would very much like to ban their use forever. Not sure what “kerfuffle” is doing on that list—it’s a perfectly cromulent word! (Eater, via Lisa Newman-Wise)
“Crone”? “UAV”? “RPA”? A lot of people in the drone industry hate the word “drone,” but they can’t agree on a replacement. (Wall Street Journal)
I’ve been interested for years in advertisers’ penchant for turning adjectives into nouns and nouns into verbs. In his regular column for The Week, James Harbeck, a linguistics-trained editor, looks at why these switches—collectively known as anthimeria—work. It’s all about bisociation: “You have two things operating on two different planes or according to two different scripts, and at the point where the two meet, you jump from one to the other. … Bisociation tickles your brain, and that’s just what marketers want to do.”
Here’s something lovely: Vernacular Typography, “dedicated to the documentation and preservation of vanishing examples of lettering in the everyday environment.” A project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, it catalogs ghost signs, Coney Island signs, no-parking signs, subway signs, grammatical-error signs, and much more.
Reason #46,313: The best worst names in superhero comics, compiled with frightening thoroughness by Drew G. Mackie of Back of the Cereal Box. A few of my favorites: Egg Fu, Microwavebelle, Flemgem, and Rice O’Rooney (the San Francisco Threat). If you don’t know why the last one is so bad it’s good, watch this.
On April 22 the New York Times launched The Upshot, an online section that focuses on politics and policy. The name was chosen over 45 also-rans, including Crux, Kernel, Sherpa, and Uncharted. Why did The Upshot prevail? “It’s simple and straightforward,” the editors write, “and there’s no inside joke or historical reference you’ll need to understand what it’s about: a clear analysis of the news, in a conversational tone.”
Now that Pied Piper, the fictional startup in HBO’s “Silicon Valley” series, has an official logo, how well does it stack up?
In November 2012, voters in Washington State legalized marijuana use and authorized the licensing of retail outlets to sell cannabis. (Voter turnout, Wikipedia notes with no apparent irony, was 81 percent, “the highest in the nation.”) Now that Seattle’s first pot stores have been chosen by lottery, let’s take a look at their names. Lots of greens (Greenjuana, Evergreen, Street of Greens, Green Vision, Greenco, Behind the Green Door), quite a bit of 420 (Seattle 420, 420 PM Corp, Highway 420, 420-911), and a few whose owners appear to be fans of “The Wire” (Bellinghamsterdam, Vansterdam, Hamsterdam, New Vansterdam). Kinda meh, if you ask me, but hey—it’s still a budding industry. (Hat tip: Benjamin Lukoff.)
In related news, Fast Company’s Co.Design blog talks to four cannabis-industry experts about “how to brand a high-demand, once-illegal product.” Cherchez les femmes, says Cheryl Shuman, who points to “stiletto stoners”—successful working women who smoke pot—as a key demographic. (Hat tip: Irene Nelson.)
Manicule: A punctuation symbol resembling a pointing hand. From Latin manicula, “little hand.” Also known as a printer’s fist, index, bishop’s fist, digit, mutton-fist, hand, hand director, pointer, and pointing hand.
Manicules (“indexes” here) from a book of type specimens published in San Francisco in 1887. Via Feuilleton.
In his 2005 essay “Towards a History of the Manicule,” Professor William H. Sherman—the sole historian of this idiosyncratic mark—wrote that, between at least the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, the manicule was possibly “the most common symbol produced both for and by readers in the margins of manuscripts and printed books.” First recorded in the “Domesday Book” of 1086, the manicule—taken from the Latinmaniculum, or “little hand”—was a mark that readers drew to call out points of interest. For the next several hundred years, scholars marked up the margins of their classical texts, law manuals, and notebooks with manicules drawn in a wide variety of styles. But, as was the case with many other marks, the arrival of printing in the fifteenth century triggered a crisis for the manicule: with printed versions of the symbol—and of other reference marks such as * and †—now available to writers, “authorized” notes began to spring up in the margins, encroaching upon the space once available to the reader. The printed ☞—sometimes called a “mutton fist” in Old English slang—overtook its handwritten counterpart, and was overtaken in turn by the numbered footnote. Today, the manicule is used only rarely in printed works, often to lend texts a vintage flavor, but it still appears on the returned-to-sender stamps of the United States Postal Service.
The manicule’s digital descendant is the pointing hand that appears your computer screen when you place your cursor over an web image or HTML link.
San Francisco’s Would You Believe? bar, at Geary Boulevard and 11th Avenue, has a name wrapped in a question wrapped in three typefaces, none of which I could identify.
The 11th Avenue side of the bar. I’ve decided to call this typeface “Adventureland Bold.”
The awning on Geary gets a second question mark. This looks like Aladdin or a similar Middle-East-y font.
Fancy script—let’s call it “Sugar Plum Princess Birthday”—paired with an austere, vaguely Deco sans-serif face. I’m picturing a tipsy tootsie on the arm of a pinstriped stockbroker. The sign is mounted above the awning on Geary.
I searched in vain for clues about the origin of this Richmond District bar’s rhetorically questioning name. Something to do with Get Smart, the TV spy spoof of the 1960s, maybe? “Would you believe…” was Maxwell Smart’s catchphrase on the show, and it’s also the name of a Get Smart fan site.
I love this bar if for no other reason than when we drive by it on our way to places far more interesting, I get to spin my wrists like propellers and declare in a loud, fey voice, “Would you believe?!!” Sometimes, I just holler that out there – “Would you believe?!!” I guess I have to make my own fun.
The London 2012 Olympic Typeface, which is called 2012 Headline, may be even worse than the London 2012 Olympic Logo, but by the time it was released people were so tired of being outraged by the logo that the type almost passed by unnoticed. …
Like the logo, the uncool font is based on jaggedness and crudeness, not usually considered attributes where sport is concerned. Or maybe it’s an attempt to appear hip and down with the kids—it looks a little like the sort of tagging one might see in 1980s graffiti. It also has a vaguely Greek appearance, or at least the UK interpretation of Greek, the sort of lettering you will find at London kebab shops and restaurants called Dionysus. The slant to the letters is suddenly interrupted by a very round and upright o, which may be trying to be an Olympic Ring. The font does have a few things going for it: it is instantly identifiable, it is not easily forgettable, and because we’ll be seeing so much of it, it may eventually cease to offend. Let’s hope they keep it off the medals.
You can read the entire “worst fonts” chapter at Fast Company. Believe it or not, the much-scorned Comic Sans (which Garfield calls “type that has gone wrong”) didn’t make the list. That’s how bad the eight worst fonts in the world are.
Despite its pervasiveness, a professional designer would rarely—at least for the moment—specify Arial. To professional designers, Arial is looked down on as a not-very-faithful imitation of a typeface that is no longer fashionable [i.e., Helvetica]. It has what you might call a "low-end stigma." The few cases that I have heard of where a designer has intentionally used Arial were because the client insisted on it. Why? The client wanted to be able to produce materials in-house that matched their corporate look and they already had Arial, because it's included with Windows. True to its heritage, Arial gets chosen because it's cheap, not because it's a great typeface.
Ampersand usage varies from language to language. In English and French text, the ampersand may be substituted for the words and and et, and both versions may be used in the same text. The German rule is to use the ampersand within formal or corporate titles made up of two separate names; according to present German composition rules, the ampersand may not be used in running text.
Did you know that the Poetica typeface family (created by an Adobe designer) contains 58 different ampersand characters? I didn't.
It turns out that's not all I didn't know about type. The Rather Difficult Font Game lives up to its name; I scored a humbling 22 out of 34. And to think I used to draw a paycheck as a typesetter. (Hat tip: Dynamist.)
"Down with Arial" handbill graphic from Fawny.org.
I supported myself in graduate school in part by working as a typesetter. The work was tedious but relatively lucrative (compared to writing for The Daily Californian for five cents per column inch); what kept me engaged were the typefaces themselves, and especially their names, each of which suggested a rich history: Futura Condensed, Broadway, Bookman, Canterbury, Times Roman, Helvetica. If I were setting type today I'd have hundreds more fonts to choose from, with far more inventive names. I keep in touch by means of the MyFonts.com e-newsletter, which each month delivers a fresh batch of funky, elegant, or mysterious typefaces along with well-written stories about type designers. Here are a few of the font names that have caught my eye lately:
How to Consume Oxygen, created by Vic Fieger "with the plan of emulating words written on a fluted-steel ‘warehouse’-type door in advanced state of rusting."
By the way, the ubiquitous Helvetica typeface celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. A new documentary about Helvetica had its world premiere last week at SXSW, and in its honor the Manage This blog is sponsoring a contest for the best font-related haiku. Deadline is Friday, March 23. My favorite submission so far, from DJM:
i shot the serif
left him there full of leading
yearing for kerning
That's a whole lot of word play in seventeen syllables! For the uninitiated, "leading" (rhymes with "bedding") is the space between lines of type; "kerning" refers to space adjustments between letters. There are excellent explanations of these terms and more here and here.
Update: Just looked at this post online. I have no idea why the haiku looks so squirrelly. It's only three lines here in Typepad.