Friday, July 16, 2010

A Well-Punkt Remark

One fine Saturday evening, the dinner party winding down, all at table sufficiently-oiled, and the Pinot Noir giving rise to world-class solutions to world-wide problems, what should Pop Up ! but the noösphere, enjoining our thoughts to commingle.

Years since I had read Teilhard de Chardin, it was time for review.

Such a surprise to find that in this excellent translation of The Phenomenon of Man (Bernard Wall, tr.; Harper & Row, Revised English edition, 1965) that the French style for handling punctuation had been observed:
The addition of a full word space before some punctuation: viz., the semi-colon, the colon, the exclamation point, and the question mark.

I call attention especially to the exclamation point, which in modern typesetting—and especially in the case of sans serifs—is often set so tightly that the exclamation point reads as an errant “el.” A fault exacerbated with smaller point sizes, especially when digital type is converted to polymer plate for letterpress printing.

As a matter of fact, this is one of the “finer points” that Geoffrey Dowding outlines in his classic, Finer Points in the Spacing and Arrangement of Type.

Consequently when setting digital type for letterpress/bookwork, I routinely add two hair spaces (totaling 1/12 of an em in CS2) before the exclamation point or the question mark.* Character shape to the left and the right having such a strong influence on the relative placement of the semi-colon and colon, I adjust with unit spacing to the left and to the right.

Once you get used to the idea of punctuation as a thing unto itself, take a good look at the Bauer Bodoni or the Stradivarius exclamation point—or for that matter, the Futura Lite question mark, which looks like an upside-down capital “S” with a period centered under it.

Like good wine, they should be allowed to breathe.

*However, the prevailing style in advertising typography is quite the opposite—both the exclamation point and the question mark very tightly kerned to the adjacent character.