Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Some ligatures are used to murder people. Other ligatures improve book covers.

On TV cop shows, a ligature is a wire, necklace, shoelace, rope or cord used to strangle a “vic.” The photo above shows a "ligature mark," frequently analyzed by the coroner, medical examiner or forensic pathologist.

(Leslie Hendrix played Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers, the longest-running recurring character in Law & Order and one of only five characters who appeared in all four Law & Order TV shows set in New York.)

[above] In typography, a ligature is seldom deadly. It's several letters joined together to save a little space and improve appearance. Some fonts include more ligatures than others. In Microsoft Word, you can select ligatures from the symbols section, or apply ligatures in the Open Type section of the Font dialog box. It’s much more important to use ligatures in the large type on book covers and title pages than in normal text.

[below] Some ligatures are much less common than others, and some are downright mysterious. The “i-j” ligature looks like  a “y” with two dots over it. The “s-t” combo doesn’t seem to save any space. The “a-e” and “o-e” are too similar to figure out without the rest of the word, and the “f-s” is hard to decipher without a cheat-sheet. It could be a “j-3.” 

[below] The ampersand is the most common ligature, but most people don’t think of it as a ligature because it is so common. It is probably the only ligature commonly drawn by hand, and is on most keyboards.

In most typefaces it’s hard to tell which letters have been combined to make the ampersand. The two letters are “E” and “t,” which spell “et” — the Latin word for “and.” In English it is pronounced “and,” not “et,” except in the rare case of  “&c,” which is pronounced “et cetera.”  In the examples above, only the last one (Trebuchet MS) clearly reveals the original “E” and “t.”

Although the ampersand is often used in business names and logos such as A&P, AT&T, Barnes & Noble, Bain & Company and Simon & Schuster, it is inappropriate in normal text. Ampersands are sometimes used in book titles to save space on covers. I spent a lot of time looking for a book cover with an ampersand. After I gave up, on a Saturday morning FedEx brought me this excellent book — about typography — with an ampersand on the cover.

This blog post is adapted from my new Typography for Independent Publishers

Top photo from www.DocumentingReality.com. Hendrix photo from NBC. Thanks.

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