Phrases from the printing press are just my type

Phrases from the printing press are just my type

​Hold the (smaller) front page!

The Guardian has re-launched this month with a new-look size – for the first time in the newspaper's almost 200-year history it has gone tabloid.

It’s not the only change. The masthead has been replaced with simple black lettering, the website and app have been revamped and a new font introduced called Guardian Headline that Editor-in-chief Katharine Viner describes as ‘simple, confident and impactful’.

As a font fan (except for the ‘comic’ one that shall not be named!) I was just as interested in this as the change in size and shape of the paper.

After all, as this blog from Oxford Dictionaries points out, clear, easy-to-read fonts have always been important – the phrase ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’ may well even derive from typo disasters in the early days of the printing press:

“Think about … (all the) mirror images of the letters that would be printed on paper. An overtired compositor could very easily stick a ‘p’ in where a mirror-image ‘q’ was required, especially since they were next to each other in the type case.”

This slip of the typesetter’s hand is not the only term we use today which is likely to stem from the printing press and the newspaper industry.

Upper case and lower case’, for example. Printers used to assemble letter blocks to make up the words and sentences and these were called a ‘sort’. When not in use the sorts were kept in cases – capitals, quite literally, stored in the upper case, and the small letters in the lower. 

Which leads us on to ‘out of sorts’. Today it means grumpy or a bit off – which you would be if you were a printer who had run out of type!

Equally you might feel a bit out of sorts if you were an actor continually playing the same kind of character over and over again. ‘Typecasting’ may well have referred to casting metal – yes! – stereotypes in the inky print room before it headed for the bright lights of Hollywood.

And that’s a wrap for now from me as this Wordsmith’s World has hit her (non-print) deadline! 

Jill Theobald This article was written by Jill Theobald

1 month ago

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