The First Spiekermann Dictum

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Jared Benson's picture
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Joined: 25 Apr 2005 - 6:41pm
The First Spiekermann Dictum
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Because we're talking about it on Twitter, I'm curious to see how many of you are aware of the First Spiekermann Dictum? I imagine that anyone who's set more than a few lines of type has come across the phenomena where a descender in a line of type clashes with the ascender in a second line of type.

As written in Rhyme & Reason: A Typographic Novel, the dictum states the following:

Any good stories on your encounters with the First Spiekermann Dictum? What would be your approach when it occurs?

George Thomas's picture
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Joined: 24 Apr 2000 - 7:46pm
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My approach to these incidents is to rework the two lines so that the two touching elements look as natural as possible, blending together well. My one exception to that is if the touching is quite minimal, then I will rework the two lines so they don't touch.

Simon Daniels's picture
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Joined: 11 Apr 2002 - 6:37pm
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I'd guess that it's easier to handle this for some languages than others.

David Berlow's picture
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Small cap it. ;)

Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
Joined: 19 Nov 2010 - 11:15am
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Sounds to me like a subset of O'Toole's Corollary of Finagle's Law: "The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum."

Neil Caldwell's picture
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Joined: 8 Jan 2010 - 12:11am
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Spiekermann?

Chris Lozos's picture
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Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
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Buttered toast?

John Hudson's picture
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Joined: 21 Dec 2002 - 11:00am
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Spiekermann?

Chris Lozos's picture
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Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
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Your best ever, John!!! Why did I ever doubt you?

John Savard's picture
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Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
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Odd. How could that possibly happen, unless the ascenders and descenders were cast as overhanging kerns?

Of course, with phototypesetters, one can specify negative leading, and one can do similar foolish things at one's own risk with computer typesetting... but if that happens by default, it's bad programming.

Kent Lew's picture
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Joined: 21 Apr 2002 - 11:00am
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How could that possibly happen,

Spiekermann’s is a phototypesetting-era dictum.

«Where two consecutive lines are closely spaced . . . »

John Savard's picture
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Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
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I was being slightly sarcastic, but of course even with "closely spaced" included, closely spaced should mean zero leading, not negative leading: that is, a phototypesetting system should require you basically to hit the red override button before you can space lines that closely.

John Hudson's picture
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Joined: 21 Dec 2002 - 11:00am
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Look at the illustration. Erik is talking about a particular style of display setting.

Chris Lozos's picture
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The telling line is, "touching is allowed if it looks better"

–'s picture
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The spelling error in ‘exception’ bugs me more than any touching extenders, I have to admit—at least in this particular setting.

George Thomas's picture
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@R: Good catch. Everyone was so focused on the touching bits they all missed it, including the proofreader -- and that's assuming they had one.

Or maybe there's a Spiekermann Dictum that covers that?

Chris Lozos's picture
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Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am
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I think that "exeption" was on purpose to make the "p" line up with the "i" on the next line. That the word exception was the misspelled word further emphasizes that "exeption" looks better than "exception" would have in the same setting. This is a visual pun of the highest order and I heartily applaud.

Christopher Timothy Dean's picture
Joined: 22 Oct 2006 - 10:49pm
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[to follow]

Theunis de Jong's picture
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How would it look with the dot of the "i in "this" removed? Also as a typo ("thıs"), or would the "p" tail be enough to mimick/obfuscate it?

George Thomas's picture
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Joined: 24 Apr 2000 - 7:46pm
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Another thing that could have corrected it and allowed spelling "exeption" correctly: simply change "this" to "the". It would still read right and everything would be fine.

Chris Lozos's picture
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Spoken like a true editor :-)
The point of it is the on-purpose misspelling of the particular word "exception"

Chris Goodwin's picture
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"exeption" looks better than "exception"

I think that's wandering into the realms of post-rationalisation. There are better ways to engineer an ascender descender clash than to purposely introduce a spelling error. If it was intentional then that's just sloppy.

Chris Lozos's picture
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You are certainly allowed to disagree with my assessment ( I have no idea what was really going through Herr Spiekermann's mind at the time. I really do think you have gone a bit unfairly overboard with the "sloppy" comment

Neil Caldwell's picture
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Joined: 8 Jan 2010 - 12:11am
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It's witty!

I'd like to say ... Give him a point and he'll think he's a typographic ruler.

But I won't 'cuase it's just a poor attempt at any sort of humor.

:)

Chris Goodwin's picture
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Joined: 12 Jul 2005 - 8:46am
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I'm pretty sure you don't become a typographic luminary by putting aesthetic niceties before correct spelling, but as you say, there's no knowing exactly what the intention is here.

If we said for the sake of argument that it was an unintentional error, then using the term 'sloppy' is fairly benign isn't it?

John Hudson's picture
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... there's no knowing exactly what the intention is here.

Ask Erik?

Chris Lozos's picture
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I just sent Erik an email.

erik spiekermann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2001 - 9:28pm
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That book was printed 30 years ago and nobody has seen that mistake until now, for a mistake it is. Paul Stiff and myself worked on this English translation of the German original and we never noticed that typo. Quite exceptional to have escaped an expert audience all these years.

If I had the German original here I would check how it was handled there, but i remembered that we just set the sentences the way they came and clashes happened, thus the dictum.

The Spiekermann Dictum, however, is to be found on the top of the right-hand page, not that headline setting. It doesn’t apply to text setting where – even without additional leading – most descenders won’t physically touch ascenders below, although they might still look uncomfortably close at times. But if anybody has ever set a headline for a package or some other display purpose where two or more lines have to be close for impact and/or space reasons, they will have come across this phenomenon. In other trades this is simply called “shit happens”.

Chris Lozos's picture
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Thanks, Erik!

I stand corrected.
In the words of the late Emily Lattella, "Never-mind" :-)

erik spiekermann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2001 - 9:28pm
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Actually, I stand corrected.

Gezegen Kucuk's picture
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How funny! A misspell by the holly name "Spiekermann" was going to be almost sanctified if Herr Spiekermann hadn't stand corrected! There is still, though little, hope as long as children like R. exist who are brave enough to say "Spiekermann is naked!".

erik spiekermann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2001 - 9:28pm
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@gezegen:
not sure what you’re implying: I make as many mistakes as the next guy, especially in English, which is not my first language. And I appreciate other people finding them so I won’t die stupid.

John Hudson's picture
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If I were to have a first dictum, it might be this: the typo will always occur in the short piece of display setting, which no one will think to proofread.

Christopher Timothy Dean's picture
Joined: 22 Oct 2006 - 10:49pm
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On a similar note, during my undergrad, I was asked to design a title page for a book titled “TRADITIONAL TYPOGRAPY.” My choice of title. My professor and I went through a few rounds of revisions with tissue markups advising me on kerning &c, after which I submitted the final version, for which I received an A+.

It was only after I got it back that I noticed I had actually misspelled the word TYPOGRAPY. I brought this to my professors attention, who’s first language was also not English, and we both laughed. We were so focused on the kerning we neglected to notice the spelling. I believe the expression is “not seeing the forest through the trees.”

This is truly a thread for the books — pun intended.

(he let me keep the A+)

Christopher Timothy Dean's picture
Joined: 22 Oct 2006 - 10:49pm
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And I’d wager that everyone here has a similar story.

Theunis de Jong's picture
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Yup. Author who misspelled his own name on the title page. Quite painfully, as he only saw it in the press proofs, so the sheet had to be re-printed.

erik spiekermann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2001 - 9:28pm
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In more than 45 years of having stuff printed, I have yet to get one piece back from the printers (or finishers) that hasn’t got at least one mistake in it. And I’m not talking about bad line breaks, but major, often embarrassing typos, omissions, wrong fonts, missing illustrations etc. The closer you work with it, the farther it gets from your critical eye. Show me someone else’s work and I’ll spot a typo or similar misdeed immediately.

John Hudson's picture
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One of the classics is the Hartley & Marks edition of Gerrit Noordzij's Letterletter, on the spine of which his name is spelled Noordzig.

The one that pains me most is in Language Culture Type. I managed to drop a letter from Adam Twardoch's witty chapter title, so it ended up as 'Picked herring...' instead of 'Pickled herring...'. Neither I, nor the editor, nor any proofreader spotted it. Adam, of course, saw it immediately, after the book was printed.

I also recall a misspelling in 100pt type on the cover of a high Anglican service booklet, also missed by numerous people until the church secretary opened the box from the printers and spotted it immediately. In that case the text was running from bottom to top up the side of the cover, and the mistake might have been easier to spot if anyone had bothered to rotate the proofs. I don't remember exactly what the mistake was, but I do remember all the covers being carefully removed and new ones affixed.

Chris Lozos's picture
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John, I just now looked at my copy of the Letterletter book! There it is, plain as dzig! ;-)

Maxim Zhukov's picture
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And I’d wager that everyone here has a similar story.

This book I designed was published in 1973. It had a misprint right on the title page, in Times New Roman bold. The point size was 72 or 84… No one noticed it. The book sold out in a couple of weeks.

erik spiekermann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2001 - 9:28pm
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I can see what’s wrong with that headline: The R is backwards.

Craig Eliason's picture
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As a graduate student I was so excited to learn that an article I wrote would be published in a prominent Dutch journal. My name in print! But when they sent me copies of the issue, I found that my first name was misspelled.

Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
Joined: 19 Nov 2010 - 11:15am
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I know that I read 'exeption' above as 'exception' without even hesitating.

Joshua Langman's picture
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I regularly see publications go to print with random w's scattered everywhere, because of the InDesign shortcut.

Chris Lozos's picture
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There are random "Z"s around for the same reason ;-)

Christopher Timothy Dean's picture
Joined: 22 Oct 2006 - 10:49pm
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Is there such thing as a typeface with ligature glyphs designed to replace overlapping ascenders and descenders? That’d be an interesting challenge for an MA of Typeface Design at Reading University graduate student.

Neil Caldwell's picture
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Joined: 8 Jan 2010 - 12:11am
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I'm now thinking it would be coolio if there were typefaces (especially Display faces) with ligatures designed for overlapping descenders and ascenders, and overlapping anything else for that matter.

Or perhaps even better ...a script one could use in Adobe products which the user could simply highlight the characters and make it so.

Chris Lozos's picture
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Particularly with swashed script fonts, a certain amount of overlap is expected among the flourishes. Here is an example:

David Berlow's picture
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...and of course, "Jefferson" is trying to crash into "Thomas" just ahead of a "Symphonic/Jefferson" pile-up.

Chris Lozos's picture
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It appears to only be a minimal fender-bender though ;-)
Emanual, Good thing there was no Bach playing there, otherwise, there may have been a Carl-Phillipp ;-P

John Hudson's picture
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When Geraldine Banes was at Microsoft, she and I spent many hours discussing inter-line contextual glyph processing (also dynamic spacing around intrusions from adjacent lines, which would be very handy for publishing Sanskrit texts in Tibetan script), but never managed to generate much interest from line layout folks. The computational overhead is high, and hence the impact on performance would be considerable.