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running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

A Biography of Punctuated Print in 500 Words

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

LATININSCRIPTIONSANDTEXTSWEREWRITTENWITHNOSPACESBETWEEN
THEWORDSUNTILAROUNDTHETHIRDCENTURY·AD·WHEN·A·CENTERED·DOT
·BEGAN·APPEARING·BETWEEN·WORDS·ON·MANY·ROMAN·MONUMENTS SPACING EMERGED TOWARDS THE END OF THE EMPIRE AND LEGIBILITY BECAME GREATLY IMPROVED BUT IT BECAME HARDER TO PERFECTLY JUSTIFY LINES ON A MONUMENT OR A SCROLL

Latin Lettering
Detail from Trajan's Column.

TO SOLVE THIS THE ROMANS ADOPTED THE EARLY GREEK TECHNIQUE OF DIVIDING TEXT INTO SHORT UNITS CALLED PARAGRAPHOS

THIS HELPED TO CREATE LOGICAL CHUNKS OF TEXT DOWN A PAGE OR STONEFACE

AROUND THIS TIME THE CAPITULUM AND THE
   INDENT APPEARED ALLOWING GREATER EMPHASIS ON MEANING AND INTRODUCING MARGINS TO CONTROL PRESENTATION

THE ROMANS ALSO FORMALISED THE GREEK PUNCTUATION SYSTEM WHERE THE HYPODIASTOLE AND THE PERIODOS WERE USED TO SEPARATE SHORT, MEDIUM, AND LONG SECTIONS OF TEXT. THIS GREATLY IMPROVED PUBLIC ORATORY, CREATING A SYSTEM WHERE NATURAL PAUSES AND VARYING RHYTHMS IN READING COULD BE SIGNIFIED. THE COLON : THE SEMICOLON ; THE DASH - AND THE VIRGULE / WERE SOON ADDED TO THE MIX.

WHEN GUTENBURG INVENTED MOVEABLE TYPE, THESE ELEMENTS OF STRUCTURE SERVED AS THE BASIS FOR MODERN PUNCTUATION AND PRINT LAYOUT.

VERY SOON THE CONVENTION FOR PRINTING IN MAJUSCULE, WITH ALL THE LETTERS THE SAME HEIGHT, FELL INTO DECLINE and roman minuscule letters began to dominate. These letters featured extended ends above and below the main body of the letter, and we know these elements today as the ascender, the descender and the x-height.

The earliest minuscule style was known as carolingian, but this was soon replaced by a more condensed style which we now refer to as gothic.

miniscules
Carolingian and Gothic minuscules

In the fifteenth century, carolingian was reintroduced in Italy. It was used to create contrast with the more neutral roman typeface, and was renamed italic.

Because minuscule and majuscule letters were kept in separate drawers or cases, printers began using the terms uppercase and lowercase, and the development of metal type and the use of lead to control line-spacing added to the robustness of the printed word.

There now emerged a whole series of techniques which improved legibility. The serif was the dominant form of decoration, allowing the eye to flow from letter to letter, and enlarged, heavy, coloured, and underlined letters came into common useage. The spacing of   l e t t e r s
a n d    w o r d s  was also brought under control with kerning and tracking.

By the early twentieth century, the four families - roman, italic, bold roman and bold italic - were firmly established.

Modernism popularised the grotesque, or sans serif typeface, which in turn revolutionised the way print and whitespace could interact in books and magazines.

Sans Type Layout
Akzidenz Grotesk Typeface and Book Layout, Karl Gerstner, 1950's.

The International Style then gave us Helvetica - an efficient sans typeface with which to standardise signage, declutter corporate identity and demystify visual communication.

Fixed-widths, narrow and condensed fonts, symbol and bespoke typfaces are now commonplace in digital production, and new structures for print have emerged through the use of html, email, txtng, @twitter, and a little bit of improvisation :)


More:
International Typographic Style
Type Terminology and Definitions
Printing @ wiki
Typesetting the Ergodic Novel

Acknowledgements:
'Period Styles' by Ellen Lupton, in 'Design Writing Research' Phaidon, 1996.