Sample Text

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Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
Sample Text

In evaluating a font, it would be nice to have a good test phrase.

Pangrams (like “The quick brown fox …”) are nice, but they tend to sacrifice too much for compactness; a somewhat more elaborate sample text would make evaluation much richer.

So I started thinking about what constitutes a good test phrase, and here are the factors which I think need to be balanced against each other:

1. It should be short.

2. It should show each letter in the middle of other letters. This is to facilitate evaluation of spacing, noting that by “propagating” the evaluation chances are much better for arriving at a firm conclusion. For example, in the word “major”, if the “aj” is loose, you could look at other words that have an “a*” (and so on) to figure out where the problem is. It’s not water-tight, but it helps.

3. The letters should occur alphabetically (for easy location).

4. It shouldn’t necessarily have a self-contained coherent meaning, but it should be a “normal” English sentence: using words that occur frequently, and no kinky Egyptian sex, please. But some awkwardness is probably inevitable.

5. It should contain some extras like: punctuation, quotes, apostrophe*, hyphen, and some special-case words like “the”, “I” and “a” (the latter two especially helpful in evaluating an italic).

6. It should be easy to memorize.

* The most frequent words containing an apostrophe are: “don’t”, “it’s”, “I’m”, “that’s”, “I’ll”, “couldn’t”, “can’t”, “you’re”. And I think “I’ll” provides the biggest spacing challenge.

In trying to maximize the “normalness” of the phrase, I talked to my good friend, Linguistics, and compiled the list of the most common [English] words containing each letter (as a middle letter):

a: that
b: about
c: which
d: made
e: they
f: after
g: through
h: the
i: with
j: major
k: like
l: all
m: some
n: and
o: for
p: people
q: require
r: are
s: these
t: with
u: but
v: have
w: two
x: next
y: system
z: size

Since the more common letters occur in many words, I managed to reduce this list down to 16 words.
(BTW, this is where I decided that it should be two sentences — that and wanting to put in more puctuation.) *However*, in the case of frequent letters, this list was more of a hindrance than a help, and it was more effective to just think of common words myself; but for the less frequent letters, it helped a lot.

So, after a good amount of wrestling, here’s what I’ve ended up with:

Incredibly, he makes a major life-change! For example:

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am

Not to mention “oqo”…

An exhaustive cryptic ream of control strings is one (admittedly useful) thing, a short memorable phrase for quick evaluation (especially of somebody else’s work) is another.

So, is there a compact, non-contrived phrase (or two) where each letter is between both a pair of flats and a pair of rounds? That would be a superb metagram indeed, but I won’t hold my breath.


Jared Benson's picture
Joined: 25 Apr 2005 - 6:41pm

What do you two think of Emil Ruder’s spacing test in Typographie? On the left are words which are difficult to set due to awkward spacing issues. On the right are your control letters, that is, letters that generally don’t cause trouble. According to Ruder, if your spacing is right, the overall color of left vs. right should be equal. If the spacing is too tight, the left would appear too light and the right too dark.

The words are as follows:



Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am

> “Making the Alphabet Dance”

I ran into that gem of book last year, and suspect that the author has no idea how useful it is to type designers!

> the next challenge is to sneak in figures and punctuation and so on, which is a worthwhile effort.

Yes, it’s just difficult to draw the line between something that’s memorizable (and not “memorable” as I wrote above) versus something comprehensive — not that any text can be perfectly so.

Good luck with your “Philosopher’s Stone” efforts, it’s a very worthy thing.


Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am

> Emil Ruder’s spacing test

I didn’t know about it! It seems pretty cool, especially since it uses many languages. BTW, what’s the language in the first column of “Right”, Swedish? I think Spanish would be more useful (and an English in each better than a French).

Jared, could you possibly provide a plain-text version? Copy-pasting that is bringing forth a mess.

BTW, two things I worry about:
1. How to arrange the parts/words to get a good view of the color?
2. In evaluating color across the two sets of words, texture might interfere, noting that the “Left” set naturally has a lot of diagonals, descenders, etc.* Add to that the different textures that different languages have (like the accents in French), and it gets a bit muddy. I think maybe sticking to one language (at least at a time) might be safer.

* I had to work through an especially thorny incarnation of this issue when trying to balance Patria and Nour. I squinted so much, I think I got crow’s feet as a result…

Also: It seems to me that the “tight => left lighter” rule might apply a lot more to metal fonts: since digital fonts can easily have gobs of kerning, this isn’t necessarily true. What might be a good idea is to disable kerning when doing this test, and in addition look at the number of kerning pairs the font has: if the non-kerned color is bad, *and* the fonts has an unusually large number of pairs, then the basic spacing could be improved. (Come to think of it, this kerning issue applies just as much to the metagram idea too.)

Lastly, InDesign’s “optical spacing” feature might be an enjoyable wrench to throw in this mix.


Jared Benson's picture
Joined: 25 Apr 2005 - 6:41pm

Set these words in your typeface and print them on separate pages. Then save yourself the squinting — step back a respectable distance and see how the overall color compares.