Your Word of the Day: Kerning

Kerning refers to the process of adjusting the space between letters in typesetting and graphic design.

The word originally comes from the French carne, meaning projecting angle or quill of a pen. In the days of manual typesetting, letters were placed on individual metal blocks known as glyphs. If a letter overlapped the following letter (e.g. a capital T before a capital A), the overlapping parts (the bars of the T), would protrude over the edge of the glyph, and these exposed parts of the letter were known as kerns.

You might not think kerning is important, especially because most digital text is automatically kerned for your pleasure. Here’s a nice example from Wikipedia of the benefits of kerning:

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Sunshine Blogger Award

Well, I know I said I’d write something about grammar or etymology, but then, how can one turn down the Sunshine Blogger Award? And there are plenty of more days ahead in which to indulge myself in the riches of English, so why not have a little break, eh, to enjoy a little sunshine? I probably won’t have to use so many italics on this one, and formatting all of those can be tiring.

So, I have to say a big thank you to Parvathy Sarat for her nomination. It’s an honour, and I strongly recommend you check out her blog, Trust Me, You’re Alive. How could you resist such a fascinating variety of topics as written by a scribbler, dancer, dog-lover, and an overthinker? Certainly three of those four describe me (I’ll let you decide which), so obviously her posts are great reading.

Let’s do this then.

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That isn’t Typing at all – it’s Writing!

At the moment, I’m reading the novel Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. (I’m aware that this is the second post in a row about what I’m reading: I do like to read, and I feel there’s a future post about a link between English teaching and reading) Yesterday, I was struck by the following passage (context: the book was published in 1988, and the narrator is writing about his first experience using a word processor, referred to as he/him):

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Words I Don’t Know

Why no!, not, in fact, a blank page, but rather a continuation of the theme of what I don’t know about English (though you can expect this to be a very short series of articles). Today I want to have a look at the last book I’ve read: Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. Like most books I read, it was a second-hand copy from my favourite bookshop, and one of the previous owners had underlined a lot of words. I didn’t think too much of this at first: there are often handwritten notes and underlined sections in second-hand books. That’s part of the appeal of second-hand books: the feeling that they’ve already had a full life (it must have been some journey to get from S&S Books in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway, Ireland), and the knowledge that someone else got to appreciate them. This case was slightly different though, because there were just individual words underlined, and no notes in the margins. I soon realised that these words were underlined because the previous reader hadn’t understood them. How did I come to realise this? Because I didn’t know most of them either.

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