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#72 • The Irony Mark

Happy 2020, type friends! We're back. Where to even start? Lydia Weber and Zak Fisher have gifted us
Coffee Table Typography
#72 • The Irony Mark
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #72 • View online
Happy 2020, type friends!
We’re back. Where to even start? Lydia Weber and Zak Fisher have gifted us a wonderful typographical present for the holidays: All I Font for Christmas is a gorgeous advent calendar for typefaces, curated by 31 different artists and designers around the world; not to be missed. Fisher-Price, that iconic toy company from your childhood, has also updated their branding after so many decades, a work done by Pentagram which involved its own typeface design too.
Still with a 2019-retrospective mood, the Literary Hub have published their collection of the most beautiful book covers of 2019 — and since most of them are heavy on typographic details (as they should), it’s worth contemplating. How bold of a move by Pablo Delcan to cover up part of the book’s name with its only illustrative detail?
Kiev—a city I’ve been curious about for a while—doesn’t really have a reputation for being particularly typographically inspiring, but — and there’s always a but — its subway stations are certainly worthy of a second glance. Present&Correct collects a few for us and you should admire them for a few long minutes.
The folks at ILoveTypography have published a book review on a book about books (you can read that again), The Secret Life of Books, that got my attention right away. After reading The Book by Keith Houston, I’ll be sure to personally add this one to my list.
And for 2020, David J. Ross’s Font Of The Month is a variable font, Gimlet X-Ray, a playful and different style of typeface that just begs exploration. Don’t miss it.
From a cosy and warm Montreal café,
—Ricardo

Apostrophes in Native Languages
From the deep-end of the Internet archives, I’ve stumbled upon a very old but interesting article on LanguageGeek, about the use of apostrophes in native languages. How interesting can a simple ’ apostrophe get, you may ask, and you should be prepared to have your mind blown away.
The apostrophe mark serves different functions in different languages. Here’s a few:
1. Elision Mark
Elision refers to the omission of a sound which might otherwise have been pronounced. In English, the eliding apostrophe appears in words like don’t and they’ve. This also appears commonly in French and Welsh. In Skicinuwatuwewakon (Maliseet) the eliding apostrophe indicates that, historically, there once was an initial consonant which is now not pronounced.
2. Separation Mark
Sometimes an apostrophe is used to separate two letters which would otherwise be pronounced as one sound. In Uummarmiutun (a dialect of Iñupiaq), the letter «nng» is pronounced [ŋŋ], as in  avinngaq “lemming”. When the sequence should be two distinct sounds [nŋ], an apostrophe separates the two: tan’ngit “whites”.
3. Punctuation Mark
In North American English, the apostrophe also functions as a closing quote-within-a-quote, as in the following. My brother said, “The woman told the dog, ‘Stay!’ after it had barked at the neighbour.” In British English, the rôles of the single and double quotes are reversed. This type of usage may appear in Native language texts. In French, «double guillemets» and ‹single guillemets› are commonly used instead. 
4. Grammatical Mark
On occasion, orthographies can distinguish between two otherwise identical words, prefixes or suffixes with some sort of mark or accent. In French, a “have” and à “to” are pronounced the same way but are marked with an accent to help the reader distinguish between the two words. Similarly, the apostrophe in the singular English possessive marker ’s, as in the man’s clothes, reinforces a possessive meaning instead of the unpossessed plural suffix -s.
However, in other dialects of Mohawk, the final apostrophe in the punctual is pronounced.
5. Alphabetic Mark
Many Native languages have orthographies where the apostrophe is used as a letter of the alphabet. Many languages represent the glottal stop (IPA [ʔ]) with an apostrophe, as in the Hul’q’umin’um’ (Cowichan) word ’i’“and”. In Listuguj Mi'gmawi'simg (Restigouche Micmac), the apostrophe can represent a schwa, as in ms’t “all”, pronounced [msət].
Shapes
The apostrophe itself can take on different forms, depending on the font. Generally speaking, it is either shaped like a filled in number ‘9’ or a slanted line. The shape of the apostrophe no more changes its function than a two-storied a or single-storied ɑ in English; it’s simply a difference in typeface design.
Today, apostrophes are used as what it known as dumb quote ’, which has no real use, and is a hang-over from the typewriter days when the dumb quote was used as a short cut for proper opening and closing single quotation marks. This is why they’re known as typewriter-style quotation marks, too.
Because of this, a wrong usage of the apostrophe has made its way into several different languages, at least the ones using Latin typography. To remedy this, word processors and online writing platforms have included auto-correct which automatically changes dumb quotes to curly quotes: don’t becomes don’t. This works well when the only apostrophe which occurs at the beginning of words is the opening quote or 6-shaped quote.
And then there are apostrophe accents, from which I’ll quote:
It’s remarkably interesting to notice the edge case issues we can run into, and we’re given a few ways around it to consider. For example, the following:
So what are we to do? What are the lessons learned from all this? Well, I highly encourage you to read the original article in its entirety, but we can use guillemets instead («»), long dashes (—), and really, just avoiding using single quotes as a primary way to do quotations. Keep reading for more.
Ironic Serif: Ironic Punctuation
Keith Houston, famously known for being the author of Shady Characters, has made an unlikely appearance on Popova’s Brain Pickings blog, and I just couldn’t let that opportunity pass without telling you about it.
A punctuation for irony: it seems so obvious the moment you think about it the first time: why isn’t there, in the Latin alphabet at least, punctuation to denote irony? We have it, after all, for exclamation, interrogation and even both at the same time. Well, it’s not like there weren’t any attempts in history to do so. From Wikipedia:
“Irony punctuation is any proposed form of notation used to denote irony or sarcasm in text. Written English lacks a standard way to mark irony, and several forms of punctuation have been proposed. Among the oldest and most frequently attested are the percontation point proposed by English printer Henry Denham in the 1580s, and the irony mark, used by Marcellin Jobard and French poet Alcanter de Brahm during the 19th century. Both marks take the form of a reversed question mark, ”“.
In his outstanding book Shady CharactersKeith Houston does a deeper look at the history (and the story) of this truly shady character proposal, the reversed question mark. Why bother denoting irony to begin with? Quoting Houston:
"The concept of irony got its name — though not yet an attendant mark of punctuation — in ancient Greece, where playwrights employed a cast of stock characters made recognizable by their physical characteristics, props, and personalities. One such staple of comic plays was the eirôn, a seeming buffoon who would best the alazon, his braggart opponent, by means of self-deprecation and feigned ignorance, and it was the cunning eirôn who gave his name first to the Greek eirôneia and then to the modern term “irony.”
From the early 19th century to nearly 200 years later, the debate about the punctuation for irony seemed never-ending. Some questioned the proposal for the reversed question mark and instead proposed a reversed exclamation mark. Interestingly enough, I learned that some Ethiopic languages possess the Temherte slaqî —  ¡ — indeed used to indicate sarcasm or unreal phrases, commonly used in those languages.
But really, why stop here? Houston again:
Though his new mark went unused after this first outing, Jobard returned to the subject in a book published in 1842. Expanding his palette of nonstandard punctuation marks, he suggested that the same arrowlike symbol could be placed at different orientations to indicate “a point of irritation, an indignation point, a point of hesitation,” and mused that other symbols, yet to be invented, might be used to convey sympathy or antipathy, affliction or satisfaction, and loud or quiet exclamations.
Maria Popova did a brilliant job condensing the book’s takeaways and major events into a great Brain Pickings post, so make sure to read the whole story.
24Ways: A Modern Typographic Scale
For 24 Ways this/last year, Rob Weychert wrote an interesting piece on building typographic scales for our web designs. A quick heads up: this article is heavy on the technical side (CSS/Sass), but stick around for a bit if you’d like to learn why a typographical scale matters.
Typographic scales often have direct comparisons with musical scales — and rightly so. Just as our ears appreciate a good harmony with some thought and harmony applied to it, so do our eyes concerning spatial relationships; and type is no exception.
How big should your main title be, in relation to your second biggest heading? Your third biggest? Maybe a fourth? That’s essentially creating a type scale: It could be that you’ve been composing the typographic equivalent of a cacophonous symphony. And the first thing any composer will tell you to do is to get that thing on a scale.
What’s a typographic scale?
According to Rob:
You only need to know that a scale is a range of values with an established mathematic relationship. For a typographic scale, that relationship is frequently a steady interval between type sizes. Depending on what you need your type to do, the interval might be fixed (e.g. each size is two pixels bigger than the size before it) or it might be proportional (e.g. each size is twice as big as the size before it)
Of course, the bigger the intervals are, the more pronounced the size differences will be. If your designs need more contrast, go for a higher interval; nuanced, non-shouty designs will call for a smaller one. However, keep in mind:

  • There is such a thing as too much nuance: if a size on your scale is virtually indistinguishable from the sizes adjacent to it, it defeats the purpose of using a scale.
  • On the flip side, too much contrast renders the sizes’ proportional relationship moot. At a certain point, massive display type is arguably more graphic than textual.
  • More is less. The more sizes you use, the less they’ll mean.
An example from Typecast:
A classic type scale ratio (in pixel values)
A classic type scale ratio (in pixel values)
For example, the 16th century scale (which is still used widely today) was largely determined by the limitations of technology – metal type in one face, one size and one weight – and progressed as follows: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24, 26, 48, 60, 72. In CSS, we might transcribe this scale in the following, for example:
Rob goes into detail on how to define your own scale, although don’t forget that there are plenty of online scale creators that you can use.
The naming convention I typically use begins with –scale0, which is the body text size. The size below it is –scale-1 (as in “scale minus one”), the size above it is –scale1, and so on. Keeping the names relative to each other like this helps me move around the scale intuitively as I use it. If, say, –scale4 isn’t big enough for my h1, I can move up to –scale5 or –scale6, and I always know exactly how many steps away from the body text I am. 
For web developers out there, a simple, non-Sass way of defining a simple scale (in this example, the scale is 1.5) could be as the following:
CSS variables for a 1.5 scale
CSS variables for a 1.5 scale
Defining the scale in a variable, like –int above, has the added benefit of being easy to change and seeing different effects on the fly. Keep reading the original article for more tips, or jump straight into ModularScale or Type Scale to create your own and use the CSS.
The True Origins of Akzidenz-Grotesk
KlimType have recently published a comprehensive study on newly found information on the iconic Akzidenz-Grotesk typeface, and this matters for the history books.
To begin with, Akzidenz-Grotesk pre-dates Helvetica, by… a lot. It has been released circa 1898, and it’s arguably one the most iconic, industry-shaping sans-serif typefaces to emerge since the early 19th century; after all, Helvetica was heavily influenced by it.
While Helvetica was not simply a reworking of Akzidenz-Grotesk, its initial development as Neue Haas-Grotesk in Switzerland reflected, in part, the popularity that Akzidenz-Grotesk had begun to enjoy in Western European graphic design during the immediate postwar years. As a family of typefaces, Akzidenz-Grotesk was a work-in-progress. Bauer & Co. in Stuttgart and Berthold in Berlin published its very first weight together in 1898, but it was only in the 1950s that the typeface’s use began to take off. 
Akzidenz-Grotesk and Helvetica are often compared with each other, but Univers represents a far more interesting counterpoint for Akzidenz-Grotesk. No other designs better illustrate the changes in the ways typefaces were developed between the 1890s and the 1950s, or even between the 1890s and today.
The first proper addition to Akzidenz-Grotesk was published by Berthold and Bauer & Co. in 1902/03. This was a lighter-weight design that was initially sold under a unique name: Royal-Grotesk. We know that Akzidenz-Grotesk and Royal-Grotesk were intended to be used together — [but] it was not until the 1950s that Royal-Grotesk would be properly adopted into the family, and renamed Akzidenz-Grotesk Light
Since 1998, many authors have incorrectly stated that Royal-Grotesk predated Akzidenz-Grotesk, and that it had been designed by the Berlin-based punchcutter and type foundry owner Ferdinand Theinhardt. Indeed, Theinhardt’s foundry was acquired by Berthold in 1908. Berthold kept it open in its own factory for about two years, and as a subsidiary for about twenty more. During that time, it sold both Akzidenz-Grotesk and Royal-Grotesk, as well as several more Berthold and Bauer & Co. faces. Theinhardt himself had already retired from punchcutting decades before this. He sold off his foundry in the mid 1880s, and died in 1906.
Akzidenz-Grotesk Specimen, Berthold, (ca. 1956).
Akzidenz-Grotesk Specimen, Berthold, (ca. 1956).
Skipping some history events, which have been in active dispute for at least 30 years until 2017 (all of which you can read in the original article), by 1911 Akzidenz Grotesk had already more than a dozen weights and widths available, giving way to typefaces like Univers and other neo-grotesque family typefaces. Akzidenz-Grotesk became available for sale in the United States around 1957. The fonts of foundry type were sold by a New York company named Amsterdam Continental, a subsidiary of Dutch type foundry N. Tetterode.
For its first half century, the Akzidenz-Grotesk family did not include any italic styles.²²Berthold only developed those during the 1950s and ’60s neo-grotesque wave. Even then, Berthold released the italic styles gradually, rather than all at once. This was not uncommon, because:
Before the mid-twentieth century, italic type was less common in German-speaking countries than in the rest of Europe. Blackletter type, unlike roman, rarely relied on slanted secondary faces for emphasis. Compositors used stylistically different faces instead, like a Schwabacher to emphasise Fraktur, or added letter spacing/tracking. 
There’s so much more history to this over at Klim, so grab that (maybe a long) cup of coffee and head over to their blog.
Typeface Du Jour ✍️
Portada, from Type Together, isn’t really a new release, but I just stumbled upon it while researching Austrian Airlines who uses it for their branding. Designed in 2016 by Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Portada does an impeccable job at being a great typeface for UI and long-form text — while maintaining all the charm of a rounded serif typeface.
Portada was created from and for the digital world — from e-ink or harsh grids to Retina capability — making it one of the few serifs of its kind. Portada’s text and titling styles were engineered for superlative performance, making great use of sturdy serifs, wide proportions, ample x-height, clear interior negative space
It also comes in a whopping 18 different styles, guaranteeing that you’ll be able to find that perfect style for your hierarchy. Get it at Type Together.
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Did you enjoy this issue?
Coffee Table Typography

A love for words, letters, language—and coffee.
A digest of curated resources, articles and knowledge sharing about the beauty of typography; in design, on the web, or books.
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