Ten typographic mistakes everyone makes

Grammar nazis are so last century. Welcome, friends, to the brave new world of the typography nazi. Below are ten mistakes that everyone makes, an explanation of why each is wrong, and details on how to fix them. At least, you'll see how to fix them on the Mac; under Windows, you'll need to dig through tables of Alt characters. Have fun. (If you decide it's time to be more accurate with your type on the Mac, get PopChar.)

Such typographic faux pas are not as potentially dangerous as grammatical fuckups – there's little chance that using a period instead of an interpunct will obscure or confuse your meaning – but they are nevertheless wrong, at least for the time being. The large-type heading for each section contains an example of a typographic mistake; if you can see what's wrong in each one before reading the explanation below, give yourself a pat on the back. Then examine your life priorities.

One last disclaimer before we get started: by ‘mistakes everyone makes’, I include my lazy-assed self and exclude you if you're a professional typographer. Or just someone who care about the little things in this amoral pit of a world…

"What's wrong?"
OK, an easy one to start. Yup, those aren't proper quote marks; they should be ‘sixty-six and ninety-nine’ quotes. The mistake happens because typewriters, pushed for space, decided to have only one neutral quote on the keyboard, not dedicated opening and closing quotes, and the convention stuck.
THE FIX: alt-[ and alt-shift-[ for double quotes; alt-] and alt-shift-] for singles.

New in iWork ‘08!
Of course, now we have word processors that do smart quotes for us automatically, everything's cushty, right? Wrong. If you type the above sentence in Word or any other modern app, it will think that because you type the first ‘apostrophe’ in a sentence, you want an opening, ‘six-style’ single quote. Instead you actually want a ‘nine-style’, closing apostrophe, so you have to enter it manually – or type two and go back and delete the first – so that the sentence reads New in iWork ’08!
THE FIX: As above.

I am 5' 10" tall
So those 'straight' quotes aren't for proper quotes, but they represent feet and inches, right? Wrong. They're not actually for anything. Feet and inches should be represented by primes, which look a bit like straight quotes tilted slightly to the right. If your browser supports the characters, the above statement should read: I am 5′ 10″ tall.
THE FIX: Sorry, but this is a bugger to fix. If you're in InDesign or QuarkXPress, use the glyphs palette. Otherwise, OS X's Character Palette – check the International pane of System Preferences – is your only salvation.

10.5″ x 9.4″ x 4.5″
You fix one problem, and another one just bloody well comes along. So, hurrah for getting the primes right, but using a lowercase X for the ‘by’ character is another lazy I-can-see-it-on-the-keyboard-so-I’ll-just-type-it thing. Correctly rendered, the above measurement should be 10.5″ × 9.4″ × 4.5″, not 10.5″ x 9.4″ x 4.5″.
THE FIX: Again, a tricky one. You'll need to break out the character palettes.

14º and overcast
This is a really subtle one, but that degrees symbol you see up there isn't a degrees symbol at all. It's actually an O ordinal, used, inter al, in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish to denote masculine gender.
THE FIX: alt-0 gives you the ordinal, while alt-shift-8 is a true degrees symbol; alt-K is a ring above accent. [thanks, silverpie!]

Some - indeed most - use hyphens incorrectly
A hyphen – the kind of short dash you see above – should really only be used when linking words such as ready-made. It shouldn't even be used mathematically to represent a minus, as there's a dedicated character for that, too [thanks, Dash Nazi!]. Most other uses mandate an en dash – as here, for example – or when planning meetings from 1–2. Changing fashions mean the the long dash—this one, called an em dash—is rarely seen, but where it is, it's usual to render it without the spaces on either side or with special hairline spaces instead.
THE FIX: alt-hyphen for an en dash, alt-shift-hyphen for the em.

Only £17.99!
Again, laziness and the democratisation of typesetting mean that we've lost the use of the correct interpunct in prices. £17.99 should be correctly rendered £17·99. After decimalisation in 1971, a period was only supposed to be used if technical limitations meant that a middle dot couldn't be printed.
THE FIX: shift-alt-9 types an interpunct [thanks, Nic!]

Nobody cares...
Quite probably. But what you see above is just three periods, not a true ellipsis. Want a proper ellipsis? OK then… (In this font, three periods looks like this, much more tightly packed...)
THE FIX: alt-; types a proper ellipsis.

These (honest!) are brackets
No, those are parentheses. Brackets [like these ones] are used to add in information missing from a sentence you shouldn't change – such as a direct quote – or to add information outside the voice of the original text. And don't think you're smart using angle brackets to replace quotation marks when writing French; <en français> is horribly wrong, and you should instead use proper guillemets if you want to write «en français».
THE FIX: Just be aware of the difference, and don't call parentheses brackets! [Note that Lise makes a very good case for me being wrong in the comments, but I'm not so sure. More research is needed...]

3 1/2″ and 5 1/4″ disks are obsolete
Though complex fractions have to be created individually, most mainstream fonts have the characters for a quarter, a half and three quarters. 3½″ and 5¼″ not only look better and are more accurate than the use of the forward slash, but they're clearer too. 3 1/2 looks like ‘three and one or two’, and you obviously need the space in there otherwise it becomes 31/2. In this age of decimalisation, 3.5″ or 5.25″ are, of course, alternatives, but there are some uses where a proper fraction is more sympathetic to the source or context than a forced decimal.
THE FIX: You're going to need your character palettes again. You didn't just tidy them away after the last time, did you?

Well, how did you score? Do you have your own typographic bugbears? Or am I just an insufferable busybody who will hasten myself to an early grave, getting my panties in a bunch about stuff that doesn't matter a damn? That's what the comment box is for…

Need a printer, shogun?

Pixma MP210
I might just order one of these puppies. It's a neat Canon all-in-one, and though it's entry-level, it's Canon entry-level and it's the from the current range. The real clincher, though, is the price. With £20 cashback, it's £17.99. And given that my otherwise-excellent Canon i6500 needs ink, this is justifiable as a money-saving exercise...

£17.99, people!

I suggest you all buy one now. And if you buy it through this link, you get Amazon's free delivery and I get a smidge of commission. Cashback offer ends April 13th.

Bloody hellfire

“I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact”
“Everything I designed was unnecessary”
“Design is a dreadful form of expression”


So says Philippe Starck. Christ on a bicycle. [via]

Software piracy: it’s a crime

So a while back we got a letter from our friendly neighbourhood council informing us that we had strayed into a bus lane in our car.
Carlos 1
They're right; we had, though Bath is a bastard of a city to navigate round, and it's all too easy to do this by mistake. We know, we did it; so of course I paid up. A small, spiteful but ultimately tit-numbingly stupid part of my brain, though, wanted to force the council to rescind the fine, because if you look closely at the bottom right of the frame showing us pootling along in our car, you see the legend Evaluation period has expired. Please buy the Elecard MPEG2 Video Deco[der]. Thieves and brigands the lot of them.
Carlos 2
To add insult to injury, we'd been snapped on Mrs P's birthday, a day that even before this letter arrived we had agreed had been something of a birthday-tastrophe. Ah well.

You know you use the web too much when...

OMG
In other news, we briefly visited Liverpool yesterday for the world premiere of Karl Jenkins' Stabat Mater Jody K. Jenkins, Belinda Sykes, EMO ensemble, Ian Tracey, Jurgita Adamonyte, Karl Jenkins, Pasi Hyökki, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Chorus & Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra - Jenkins: Stabat Mater in the city's Anglican cathedral, and I was absolutely entranced by the cathedral building. It's incredibly masculine but without being repressive and bullying – a real feeling of benevolent, trustworthy authority. A few (quite poor) pics on Flickr.

Unless you're interested in my setup or share my OCD tendencies, you will find this post very boring

I've never formally been assessed, but I'm quite sure I have a mild case of OCD or would fit somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Witness the work of a day: our newly-optimised big-set-of-shelves-with-telly setup. It might not look like much, but it gives me a warm glow of satisfaction. So, let's have a look at what my OCD has wreaked, shall we?
Media centre
The big black box at the bottom left is a Drobo, basically a big, extendable hard disk. It stores all the programmes recorded by the Mac mini (just below the telly) and those DVDs that I have ripped to H.264 to be watched using the mini's Front Row feature.

The DVDs you see represent only a fraction of those we own – we didn't have TV in London for years and so bought far too many – but they're arranged in a particular way. They're not sorted alphabetically but rather by colour; both Jenny and I have visual memories and find it easier to remember the colour of a DVD spine rather than whether we filed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire under H or G. All those that have been ripped to the Drobo have a little black sticker dotted onto the top of their spine so that if we go to watch a film and it has a black dot, we know it can be easily accessed from Front Row. I also know which ones I still have to rip.

The Mac mini is hooked up for sound to my beloved, ageing Technics stereo, and the balance is adjusted to give true stereo even though the screen is offset from the centre.

My brother-in-law bought a PS3 when he was in Japan but can't currently use it, so you see it sitting up next to the speakers, with its wireless controllers on the shelf beside my collection of Penguin 70s. Currently I'm being shit at Colin McRae: Dirt, and the young lady and I are rockin' out to SingStar; I really want to get some Blu-ray movies and try them out on our shiny Samsung TV, but that particular luxury will have to wait for a) a little disposable income and b) some decent movies on Blu-ray that I don't already own on standard def. (The TV, incidentally, has two HDMI inputs, so both the mini and PS3 are hooked up over sweet, sweet digital connections.)

The router – that nice pre-N Netgear model – is on the shelves too. It's positioned beside the Penguin 70s, on the shelf just above the stereo, in such a way that its blinking lights are hidden from Jenny when she sits in her usual place, but I can keep an eye on it from my seat.

And the finishing touch was added with an hour of backbreaking contortion with a hammer round the back of the unit, tacking all the wires in place so it all looks neat.

Now wasn't that interesting?