"A picture is worth a thousand words, or so someone really famous was once heard to say. But what's the thousand words worth? If you happen to be a writer, which we all are in some incarnation or another, the value of those 10K words is not nearly as dear as the ease by which technology allow us to compile and share them. Here's a bit of history surrounding that technology and a few handy (yes, pun intentional) hints thrown in for good measure, originally published in 1999 in the Dofasco INTERFACE, a local computer trade paper, now sadly also a part of history." Beverley Meincke

Contact Beverley J. Meincke at meinstuff@hotmail.com
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by Beverley J. Meincke

In the olden days, text was text was text—more or less. One wrote things, if not by hand, with a manual typewriter. As manual typewriters only had one font—built in—no one except typesetters and publishers even knew what a font was. And everybody was happy. Then along came electronic typewriters. One could no longer work on that great American novel by candlelight when the power went out. If the power went out so did creativity’s flame—unless you had a pen to go along with that candle. But changing fonts was now possible! Messy, but possible. Open the lid, stick your fingers gingerly in and try to grab that daisywheel thingie without touching the ribbon mere microns away, and pull it out without touching any of the little spiny things with the letters on the end because they too were all coated in ink. Choices of fonts ranged from Roman to Roman Bold to Roman Italic to…well, actually that was pretty much it.

Today, we have computer-based word processors, and the potential for enough fonts to baptize every star in the universe. Twice. In every font "family" we find italic, bold, bold italic, sort of italic, sort of bold, in no uncertain terms bold, so italic it looks drunk… Some fonts come endowed with sticky-outy bits, and therefore call themselves serif. Short-tongued little critters that they are, my guess is that they were aspiring towards a career in county law enforcement, but they’d never admit to that of course. Other fonts are left with being jealous of the serif crowd because they weren’t born with any sticky-outy bits. Cruelly referred to as san serif, even their name is a painful reminder of their sticky-outy poverty. And, to add insult to sticky-outy injury, people say they are harder to read than their serif cousins, and so, when it comes to the really big job opportunities, like novels for example, they’re overlooked! Then, of course, we find a whole whack of symbol fonts for those for whom, with all their sticky-outy bickering, the alphanumeric sorts have become too tiresome. Oh, and how could we forget the fonts with character sets other than roman for those not of an English linguistic persuasion at all.

Yes indeed, the advent of PC-based word processing has brought with it enough new rules and regulations in typographical etiquette to sink a TRS80 mainframe. Twice. Not that anyone would mourn the sinking of a TRS80 mainframe.

One must not overuse the block capital style OR THE READER WILL THINK YOU’RE YELLING AT THEM! Unless, of course, you’re typing the title of a book or movie or some such thing, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable…not to yell at your readers, but to use block capitals. Or "caps" as they are affectionately known, and not to be confused with screen captures that are also lovingly referred to as "caps" by us abriviaholic computer folk. But, then again, you may choose to indicate titles with Italics. But what ever you do, stick to a single style or your readers will get diZzy. If you must use capital letters for other things, be polite, and use SMALL CAPS, still CAPITALS, but appearing only half the height of loudmouthed REGULAR CAPITALS. Unfortunately, they still contain all the fat and cholesterol of regular capital letters.

In the olden days, the only practical way to emphasis text (if you wanted to yell at someone) was to underline it. Thank goodness today we have a bold new way to emphasis text in our documents. By all means use it, but don’t overuse it. And never, never use bold and italic at the same time. It makes text terribly hard to read. Besides which, your readers just might think you’re yelling at them, and you’re drunk. A good rule of thumb is to use italic for emphasis in the body of a block of text and save

for headings where it belongs.

Dialogue, as everyone knows, "is contained within these sweet little pairs of curly-cues known as quotation marks." Oh, good heavens! What are those god-awful, gaudy straight things? And where have my sweet little curly-cues gone? Please, use curly quotes, otherwise known as smart quotes for obvious reasons. Unless your word processor is something as barbaric as WordPad, your quotes should, "automatically change from straight to smart." Ahh! That’s much better. Oh yes, no lions and tigers and bears, but commas and apostrophes too. The only exception to this rule is "when you're typing in a macro" because, as everyone knows, programming languages aren't very smart.

Way back when cars kept their horses in front of the hood as opposed to under it, typist,: when using a colon: or a semi-colon; would use two spaces to follow it. The same followed the period at the end of a sentence. Man all those garish white patches splattered across the page sure looked messy. Then again, in those days fonts were predominantly monospaced, which means that the same amount of space was utilized in making a lowercase i as was in making, say, a capital W. And thus the only way to clearly differentiate between two words and two sentences was to double up on the spaces. Confused? Good, then I’m not the only one.

Some script is saddled with forever being ordinary. Other script is destined to be superscript, exponentially so, as a matter of fact, as in four to the power of seven, or so your fingers don’t get cramped from all that typing, 47. Then there is the poor and unfortunate text that is never going to amount to anything more than subscript, as in 47. What manner of magic allows for such diversity you might ask? Taking control of the keyboard folks. To produce subscript, type Ctrl + and then the text you want to produce. To produce superscript, feed it spinach and liver daily…errr…no…type Ctrl = and then the text.

Widows and orphans were, sadly, quite common in them-there olden days, with the high rate of pestilence and plague being what it was. Goodness knows, with modern medicine and a decent word processor, there’s no excuse for them in modern typesetting. Typeographically speaking, widows aren’t ladies who’ve lost their husbands, they are the last line of a paragraph that appears all on its own at the top of a new page. And likewise, orphans of typography aren’t rake-thin poster-children; they are the first lines of paragraphs that are left on their own at the bottom of a page. The prescription of modern day word processing medicine comes in a bottle labeled Format menu. Inside the Format bottle, you’ll find Paragraph, then Line and Page Breaks. With a healthy dose of mouse clicking, select the Orphan/Widow Control check box, thus saving all those poor lonesome souls from a lifetime of vegetable-ink misery.

In much the same fashion, proper names don’t like to be split between lines. If you should see your word processor taking liberties with such activities, you have every right to get hard with it. Err…hard with the spaces in between the individual components of those proper names, that is to say. To force your word processor to comply and create what is known as hard spaces or, in other words, those that will not wrap around from one line to the next, make your space by typing Ctrl+Shift+Space.

— –I–C…K–E–Y — –O–U–S–E What? This has been a test of your professional symbols system. If this had been a real typographical emergency, you would have been informed where to type in the area of your keyboard to create em dashes (—) en dashes [as in 1:30 pm–6:12 am] (–) and ellipses (…), even foreign language accents [as in Pokémon,] ensuring your documents look professional and polished and don’t suffer from things such as---or 1:30-6:12---or, heaven forbid, the write-the-accent-in-with-a-pen atrocity. Here is an ANSI little list of Alt keyboard commands just itching to help you create non-keyboarded, if you will, characters:

— Alt 0150 em dash

– Alt 0150 en dash

© Alt 0169 copyright mark

® Alt 0174 registered trademark

º Alt 0186 degree sign

¢ Alt 0162 cent sign

£ Alt 0163 monetary pound

and foreign language symbols:

ç Alt 0231

é Alt 0233

ñ Alt 0241

ö Alt 0246

Ç Alt 0199

É Alt 0201

È Alt 0200

Ö Alt 0214

If none of the above suits your purpose, you can always import really eclectic stuff from your font’s character set by using the Windows Character Map. You did install it with Windows, did you not? Because, never forget:

The PC is not a typewriter.

Oh yes, and remember too:

Never use more than one or two fonts per document. Man, don’t it look messy and unprofessional?

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