Graphic Designer Geeks Out

This, dear blog readers, is intended to be the first of many rants about misstrokes (Geek for missteps on a keyboard) in the world of typography. I hope to rave in this space in the near future, but I fear I must begin with a gripe. In the book I’m currently reading, The Funeral Planner Goes To The White House, the font doesn’t include ligatures! “What?!” you say. “I know!” I exclaim. For the average layperson thinking “What is a ligature?” or the much rarer woodwind player thinking “a book not having reed holders,” I will define the term so you can better understand the atrocity. A typographic ligature is a combination of two letters that would otherwise share the same space. Two letters often joined as a ligature are fi and fl. You likely have never noticed, but in most things typeset in a quality font, occurrences of words like shuffle and office will have intertwined fls and fis. The top of the lowercase f acts as the dot of the i to save that otherwise awkward overlap. The same happens in the fl. When a font doesn’t have ligatures, the system has to put more space between the letters, so they’ll both fit. I’ve known about ligatures since my college days in good ol’ Typography I. However, to my husband, it was a completely foreign term. I showed him the giant spaces in my book between select letters. He was surprised and immediately started thumbing through his own books to check for ligatures. To further explain, I reached for an analogy: ligatures are like that great server at a restaurant, the one who refills your water glass just before you notice it’s getting low. He comes out from the shadows, refills, then retreats. You didn’t see it, but it happened. That server’s sick day is the absence of ligatures — the big space between the top of your water glass and the ice at the bottom is the same as the space between adjacent letters that should have been ligatures. It’s annoying and leaves you thirsty for better typography.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    I LOVE this posting! I’ve never given any thought to ligatures, honestly (although since you bring it up, I have noticed such a feature now and then). In a world of sloppy (nonexistent?) editing, however (particularly in emails and blogs), I cannot overstate how delighted I am to see that there is still an appreciation in some circles of the art of the written word. Thanks so much!

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