The Serif is coming and take your margins.



If you hear the dreaded mid-night knock on the door, it could well be the serif. This time of the year they look for errant margins or fonts that allow too many characters on a single line. The serif escaped from Holland some centuries ago when it was jailed for dominating the written word above all the accepted norms. The  twirls and florid decorations of letters were being pushed aside by change. Changes always are disturbing. But the serif (schreef) protested. When the Treaty of Utrecht was signed it spelled the beginning of the end of the serif. It was jailed after the signing and did not rear its head again till another war broke out between England and France. The French wanted to revive the poor old serif but was defeated by someone named Charles who remained without progeny to take on the Throne.

Ever since, there are those that hold strong ‘serif and sans serif’ opinions. There are pockets of warring factions who congregate within the gated communities of suburbs of many cities, including Rome, Warsaw and Amsterdam.  It is not as simple as just serif or sans serif. The serif fans are divided between those of the Time Roman, Courier, Palatino and New Century persuasions.  Please consider amongst the sans serifs the strong presentation of the Helvetica mobs, Avant Garde (wearing red berets), Arial and Geneva fonts ( especially in Amsterdam).

So, what to do? Absolutely nothing. Let them knock. Don’t let them in. If they force their way in it is best to show compassion.

Personally I never heard of serif or sans serif and thought at first it was an exotic potato. It was after I started inquiring about how to get a book together that I learned  it. I pretended knowledge and nodded sagely when the word was mentioned. How do people know those things? Next time I am around people who still talk and read words printed on paper I’ll swing the conversation towards serif and even throw in a few fonts. I might even ask; how are your margins going? Because, next to serif margins can easily crowd in the written word. It was astonishing to learn that the different sized margins are evenly split between uneven and even numbered pages.

And then the ongoing war between those that give two spaces after the end of a sentence and those that give it just a single space. It seems, that not only do words and their meanings sometimes change, but also the way they are put in print. One of our friends heard some schools are now not teaching running-writing anymore. Is that true? Some experts predict writing by hand is close to disappearing. What about shopping lists? I still see shoppers ticking off the hand written shopping list. There is hope!

Who would have thought?

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35 Responses to “The Serif is coming and take your margins.”

  1. Yvonne Says:

    Who’d have thought you’d be learning all this good stuff in the ‘twilight years’? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. elizabeth2560 Says:

    I am a sans serif fan myself. I find it much easier to read. I hate all those silly little feet. Sadly, not many publishers agree with me. As for hand writing, we came across all these letters in my mothers things of hers, my father’s and my grandparents. Letters written during both world wars and letters written to relatives that lived far away. To me it is preservation of a time and place and of the people themselves. It is much better than email and facebook.

    Liked by 4 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, I never even heard about serif. My daughter mentioned it and I just went along. I am surprised noone ever mentioned it. Surely, someone could have politely said; ‘sorry Gerard, but your lack of serif is showing.’

      Liked by 1 person

  3. leggypeggy Says:

    Research shows those little feet make a huge difference to the readability of the printed word. That said, sans serif is better for online.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yvonne Says:

    Gerard! Your movie (Spotlight) won the Oscar for best film. Hoooooray!!!


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, that is a well deserved award. I don’t know how Priests and Brothers can maintain the vow of celibacy. It was a real problem when I was in my early teens. It was forbidden by the catholic biblical laws.

      I did not want to go into eternal hell and share a cauldron with devils and used to imagine being run over by a train in the hope of avoiding thoughts of carnal lusts and lovely breasts.

      But, after a week (or ten days at the max.) I would relent, risking all, including eternal fire. It was worth it. I have never looked back since.

      What chance have those adult priests have? Eat an apple or read the bible instead?

      I mean, year in year out? Ridiculous.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. nonsmokingladybug Says:

    We had a movie night last night and watched Spotlight. LOVED it..thank you for your recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mary Cathleen Clark Says:

    Learning new things at our age can be daunting, but it does keep the mind sharp.
    Concerning writing, here in the US, what we call cursive writing is being taught less and less in school. I think printing, what we called it in grade school (how we write on our computers), is the norm all the way through school now. I miss cursive’s demise; such a pretty thing should not die.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Therese Trouserzoff Says:

    Good references – “Presentation Zen Design” by Garr Reynolds, who quotes “Typography Essentials” Ina Satz.

    I prefer the little-known font “Ofall Wisdom”. Not to be confused with Tony Abbott’s suppository.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Haven’t seen “Spotlight yet, but I’m glad it won. We’ll be sure to take it in. It seemed the best of the others at the Oscars and certainly the best message.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Aha, this is familiar territory. Way back in the 1990s when I first worked for a research psychologist, she was looking at the attention to text. We tested loads of people reading medical leaflets… Among things I learnt from the literature on the subject, is that for lengthy texts a serif font is easier to read. For short, visual pieces, a sans serif font is clearer. Two spaces after a sentence is a legacy of typing, and is frowned on in the publishing community.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I never heard about all those serifs. They did not tell me about it and I never came across it even though I read a great deal. It is not as if Chekov or Maugham ever mentioned it. I don’t really know how words become intelligible. I never really looked up words in a dictionary. I suppose words finally get a meaning in association with other words in the sentence.
      Even so, after arrival I had trouble how often English words written differently but pronounced the same were accepted. I mean ‘to pare a pear,’ or ‘the sow was not sewing.’


      • hilarycustancegreen Says:

        English is a crazy language made up of dozens of others, and it has kept several versions of each word to confuse things more. Pronunciation is a nightmare – you have cough, dough, plough, through, ought… I have a lovely poem somewhere. I’ll post it if I find it.

        Liked by 2 people

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        I am glad you think so too. My mum used to call the baker unflinchingly the bugger. ‘Two loaves of brown today, please, bugger.’


  10. lifecameos Says:

    Good to see some focus on the small details of our European languages. even though it seems very minor.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. rodhart (@roderick_hart) Says:

    I would just go with a font which you like and have done. I like Garamond, but that’s me.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Julia Lund Says:

    You make the ‘to serif or not to serif’ question seem almost mystical 😀 Who knew writing the book wasn’t the end of it …

    I use Times New Roman for my drafts. When it comes to ebooks, it doesn’t really matter what you use because the reader can choose their own font. As for print books, I believe Garamond has a loyal following …

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Patti Küche Says:

    I don’t mind a little serif in its place otherwise it’s a little like reading a barcode, or list of ingredients on a packet of weed killer. Have fun with it all!

    This btw from a recent NYT’s you might find interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. snowsomewhere Says:

    “Next time I am around people who still talk and read words printed on paper I’ll swing the conversation towards serif and even throw in a few fonts. I might even ask; how are your margins going? ” Funny 🙂 I wonder how people know these things, too

    Liked by 1 person

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