Ideas for typesetting optional inflectional endings – small parentheses?

nina's picture

Please pardon the garbled title, it describes pretty accurately what I’m currently wondering about… (and my state of mind, probably, too.)

I’m designing/typesetting a booklet and have come across some words (in languages like French and German) that take optional feminine endings. In the typoscript they’re set in parentheses to show that both forms are included. This is not unusual, but rather ugly:

Is it possible that there might be a way to use smaller parentheses here (these are from the smallcaps)? Or am I crazy? Do these look out of place?

I’d appreciate feedback, or any ideas / tales of precedent for how this might be typeset in a way that is both recognizable, and not too disruptive/ugly. Thanks!

Frode Bo Helland's picture

It is not horrible, but have you tried just lowering the regular parentheses? I think that would be less jarring for those 1 ‰ of us who will ever notice. Reminds me of a really old thread were I was dissatisfied with a lining percentage mark next to old style numerals.

hrant's picture

I think the smaller parens look much nicer. And even if very few laymen could consciously put a finger on the full-size parens bothering them, they would still benefit from the smaller ones.

One thing to worry about no matter what size parens you use, but especially if you use "unexpected" ones: many designers don't includne kerning for things preceding a left paren (or things beyond punctuation following a right paren).

BTW, optionality is often indicated with square brackets, not parens - but those would generally be more jarring.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Further to Frode’s comment, if this is a big issue, look for a typeface with parentheses the center vertically on the x-height (e.g. anything from Shinntype :-)

Also, for my taste the parentheses in your sample are too straight.

Substituting parentheses from a different font is another option.

nina's picture

Hm, thanks all. I must say I rather like Eames’s parens … I’m getting the feeling the best solution is somewhere between those two. Yes, maybe moving the large ones slightly down, or maybe setting the small ones a hint larger. (And Hrant, I am kerning these manually anyway. Parens inside words almost always need it.)

ncaleffi's picture

I would use normal parentheses, not the small caps, which to a graphic designer could look better, but I have the feeling that, when read at a small text size, they will risk to disappear to a reader's eye. But check out the kerning: in the German text example, it seems to me that you need to increase the kerning a little in some cases: in ...e(n) and ...r(in), for example, the e and r and nearly touching the parenthesis, and its seems that some more space is needed there.

nina's picture

Thanks. Yes, the top example is rough and not kerned yet.
I do wonder how much they might need to pop out (even though it might not look nice) .. everytime I look at it again, I think the small ones are perhaps just a tad too small.

Nick Shinn's picture

The narrow sidebearing on the outside of parentheses caters to situations such as the beginning of a line, or parenthesization of whole words/phrases/sentences, but “fails” in Nina’s usage here.

I am tempted to consider implementing contextual substitution of alternate parentheses for letter-parenleft and parenright-letter combinations, with wider sidebearings on the “outside”.

**

Why parentheses?
A discrete periodcentered would work better — breaking up the word rather like syllabicization in dictionaries.
I think readers would “get” that immediately.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Why parentheses? This is the standard way of doing it, at least it’s what I’m used to in Norway. Doing something different will only confuse.

Nick Shinn's picture

and yet the adjacent thread to this concerns the "s/he" ligature...

nina's picture

Common usage here, as far as I can tell, is either an intercap (StudentIn), which however most people find ugly; or parentheses; or sometimes a slash. Which one of these is used is also an editorial decision. The client would like parentheses, and I don’t feel I should invent something new here – this is not so rare as to warrant a completely new/customized approach, and I tend to agree with Frode that it’s probably a good idea to stick with what people are [getting] used to, especially since the construction is a bit cumbersome anyway.

Nick Shinn's picture

Yes, of course, one must go with the client’s editorial decision.
I was just musing on the subject.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Nick, I don’t see your point.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

I may get bashed for this, but I always felt that this is about political correctness vs. langual properness.
“Political correctness” is a demagogic tool of a minority to impose rather questionable concepts onto the general public, and to discriminate those who don’t wish to follow.

No one ever speaks like »die StudentInnen« etcª. “The doctor” means, if not specified otherwise, *a medical person (male or female)*, not “The male doctor”.
In my point of view this implemeting into type composing is just as nonsensical and nasty as it is in speach.
It is unnatural, and will ever be.

hrant's picture

Women are a minority? :-)

Related: http://typophile.com/node/100528

hhp

Andreas Stötzner's picture

> Women are a minority?

very funny.

99 of 100 women don’t care about those things.

hrant's picture

I certainly agree that things like feminism are often usurped to benefit the wrong people. But I also think most women realize they're treated as second-class citizens, and most of them care.

hhp

jcrippen's picture

Regardless of all the social concerns, I think this is an excellent idea. In linguistics one often encounters things that are either optional or contextually dependent, surrounded with parentheses. Since parens are mostly cap-height or ascender height, the effect is jarring. See this list of suffixes, for example: ‑ch, ‑k(w), ‑x(w), ‑(ʼ)n, ‑ts.

There are pairs of Unicode parens for superscript and subscript elements which are very useful for phonetic transcriptions that use a lot of superscript and – to a lesser extent – subscript modifiers. These are far more readable than their full-sized parenthesis counterparts: ‑k⁽ʷ⁾, ‑tɬ⁽ʹ⁾, tʃ⁽ʰ⁾‑, ‑l⁽ˤ⁾, ‑t₍.₎s‑, ‑ŋ₍₊₎ versus ‑k(ʷ), ‑tɬ(ʼ), tʃ(ʰ)‑, ‑l(ˤ), ‑t(.)s‑, ‑ŋ(₊). (Pretend that those examples are all in an appropriate typeface rather than mangled by your browser.) Having a similar pair of parentheses for x-height elements would be a major typographic improvement, though I imagine it would take some time to catch on given that the superscript and subscript ones are only beginning to see regular use.

jcrippen's picture

I should note that I’ve seen attempts before that use parens in a smaller point size. The results are, as one might expect, less than ideal. The parens become too spindly and not only disrupt the colour but also end up being more easily missed.

hrant's picture

The parens become too spindly

That's what Demi is for. :-)

hhp

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