As a bit of a cryptic crossword fan, I need to own the Chambers Dictionary. In September, I upgraded from an old edition to the latest (the 11th), and just today I noticed a little typographical feature they’ve introduced in this edition.

Each of the 26 large headings that introduce each letter is set in a font whose name begins with that letter; then the entire lowercase for that font is shown, and a brief note about that font. So, for example, at the start of the “X” pages, we have:

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
Xtasy Sans Designed by Steve Jackaman in 1997. UK.

When I spotted this, I was near the back of the dictionary, so naturally I flicked backwards through it, looking at each letter heading in turn. After a moment, I started covering up the description before I could read it, to see if I could recognise the font. Some were easy: “U” was Univers, “S” was Sabon, and so on. Others I wasn’t familiar with: Quorum, Isbell.

As I got back past Courier and Baskerville, I naturally thought, I wonder what “A” is going to be? Surely not Arial?

Turning the page, I found that it did indeed say:

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
Arial Designed by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders in 1982. UK.

But, and this is the reason I bring up the whole dreary story, this heading was not set in Arial. It was set in ... Helvetica! I probably wouldn’t have noticed if they’d done it the other way round and set the “Hh” of Helvetica in Arial, but the difference between the two fonts’ as is so eye-jabbingly obvious that it made me laugh all the way to my laptop, to tell someone...

Added irony comes from the fact that the actual body text of the definitions themselves uses Optima and Arial!


I like to think someone down the line through the printing process made his/her pièce de résistance… ;-)

What, print-room Ralph muttering "Arial, schmarial..." and making a sneaky substitution? Could be. They could have bypassed the whole issue by using Akzidenz Grotesk.

Though I've just made myself chuckle some more by looking at the imprint page to see who the typesetters were... and finding it's the same people I have to deal with every day setting our journals. Should've known!