October 12th, 2007

Specificity and Purpose

I remember in grade eleven being asked to write a little treatise on my favourite word, and I wrote mine on idiosyncratic because that is the sort of thing that appeals at 16–multisyllabic, subjective adjectives that would set me up as an alienated intellectual. Yum.

I still think that’s a nice word, as multisyllabic, subjective adjectives go: it’s got that dipthong thing going and it’s all Greek-y, but I’ve moved on. A writing teacher of mine was devoutly enthused with getting people to use material from their real lives, not necessarily love affairs and fights with parents, because everyone has those, but the quirks of employment and obsessions that are unique, nay, idiosyncratic, that come with a rarefied vocabulary that people from outside do not possess. These words are new to most readers and using them conveys a wealth of detail about the character who would choose these words, in a way that subjective adjectives cannot. Who is analytical? Who is grumpy or fey or trivia? Hard to say.

A person who uses words like folio, pass, bleed, crop, query, tighten, ligature, and cold read is very likely a person who works in publishing production. Coming back to the industry after some time away, I’m appreciating the technical vocabulary perhaps for the first time. The words aren’t gorgeous, but they useful and specific and mine to make use of. I like them. I thought I’d share here my two very favourite publishing words with you, in case you like them too. They aren’t really my favourite words in the language–there’s too many to choose, and world enough and time to use them all–but they are quite good.

kerning (n.) — in a typeset text, the spacing between letters on a line
ledding (n.) — in a typeset text, the spacing between lines on a page

I always knew about those spaces, and that they could be tightened or loosened, and I sensed (maybe?) that a page with optimal spacing was a greater pleasure to read, but I didn’t know those words. Then one day I was able to put concept into letters, exactly the right way, and in a small way, was better for it.

If I crash on the couch / Can I sleep in my clothes?

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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