history

Txtng: The gr8 db8

by Heather

Recommended Read

Crystal, David. Txtng: The gr8 db8. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2008. [ISBN-13: 978-0-19-957133-8]

One of the most notable things about texting is the impressive furor that has accompanied its meteoric rise in popularity over the past ten years or so.  David Crystal recounts some of the many dire warnings texting has occassioned, quoting John Humphrys, for instance, who writes in the Daily Mail online that texters are:

vandals who are doing to our language what Gengis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

Hyperbole aside, people are understandably worried about what this new form of communication and orthography might mean for the future of our language. There’s no question that past changes in genres and media—from sonnets to hip-hop lyrics, from scrolls to eBooks—have had real and lasting consequences for language. It’s only sensible to wonder how texting might change us. And for those of you who, unlike John Humphrys, are still making up your minds about texting, Crystal’s book is a great place to learn more. And I think you’ll find that your mind will be put at ease. [click to continue…]

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This past weekend on a visit to Chicago I stopped by Columbia College’s Center for Book & Paper Arts to see the current exhibit of Buddhist printing from the Derge Parkhang.

The Derge Parkang (also known as the Derge Sutra Printing Temple) was established in 1729 and is home to more than 300,000 woodblocks used to make copies of sutra (Buddhist teachings), thangka (fabric banners), and other spiritual images.

The exhibit includes examples of fabric and paper woodblock printing, photographs of the woodblock-carving and papermaking processes, hand-carved woodblocks from Derge Parkhang as well as a fascinating video documenting in detail the printing craft practiced at Derge Parkhang.

The prints are beautiful and phenomenally detailed, and the photographs and video really contributed to my appreciation of the prints and their place in the history of printing. I had a wonderful time and highly recommend that logophiles who find themselves in Chicago check this out. The exhibition is called Pearl of the Snowlands, and it runs until December 5, including panel discussions and workshops on November 21 & 22.


Detail of a hand-carved wood block. You can see by the ink that this block has been used for printing, though bare wood still peeks out in places.

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Yesterday, while many logophiles had a lovely time schmoozing with authors and publishers at Word on the Street, I and my adventurous parents chose instead to head out on one of Heritage Toronto‘s historic walking tours. They were able to lure me away from Word on the Street because this particular tour was led by the charming and witty Maureen Jennings—author of, among other works, the Murdoch mysteries, which are set in Victorian Toronto.

The walk, Murdoch’s Toronto: Fact into Fiction, took us through Cabbagetown and Corktown and transported us to 1895. As in her books, Jennings shared with us the social relationships and economic realities of the working classes and the poor. Toronto society was moralistic and often condescending at the time: paupers were blamed for their own destitution, teachers who wore rational dress were labeled prostitutes, women doctors weren’t permitted to use the title before their names, and the poor stuck working in the house of industry weren’t allowed to speak…pretty much ever.

If you’re interested to know more about what the day-to-day life of regular Torontonians was like back then and you enjoy a good yarn, let me recommend that you give Jennings’s compelling Murdoch mysteries a try. The first title in the series is Except the Dying.

And here are a few more interesting things I learned about 1895 Toronto while on the tour:

  1. How to break up with your beau: Fold your card in half and send it to him in an envelope. He’ll get the message.
  2. How to effectively beat someone with a truncheon: I’m not sure I should tell you this…what if one of my entries annoys you?
  3. How to score cocaine: Summon the doctor to your home.
  4. How to annoy the chief of police: Be a scorcher (aka a cyclist). How is it that a century later we still haven’t found a sensible way to share the road?
  5. How to steal a purebred dog to ransom: Trail a bitch in heat past his yard and be patient.
  6. How to spend a free night in Toronto: Just ask the police to take you in. You needn’t commit a crime–they’re obliged to put you up and feed you!
  7. How to break up with a lady: This is not permitted. Either stick it out or risk a criminal charge of “seduction.”

To wrap up an informative tour on a gorgeous afternoon, we adjourned to the Dominion Pub, where we ordered pints and where Maureen Jennings was kind enough to sign my copy of Except the Dying: [click to continue…]

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Recommended Read

Chappell, Warren and Robert Bringhurst. A Short History of the Printed Word. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks Publishers Inc., 1999. [ISBN-10: 0-88179-154-7]

A Short History of the Printed Word is an impressively complete history of print and its astonishing cultural ascendency, beginning with the invention of moveable type in eleventh-century China and ending with the rise of  digital printing at the end of the twentieth century.

Printing technologies, design and the thingness of the printed page are the focus of this history. It’s a dense but very readable book that’s absolutely packed with details from the histories of paper-making, type-founding, printing, and book-binding. You’ll learn about the history and aesthetics of typeface design, page layout, and illustrations. Everyone from Bí Shēng to Gutenberg to Garamond to Picasso to Alfred A. Knopf is here.

I read this one from the first page to last and was fascinated by this account of how the printed word has transformed the world. That said, this is also a book that is happy to serve as a reference to dip in and out of as needed. If you’re a student or practitioner of book design or typesetting, this really is a must-read. And those of you who love books—not just their contents but the books themselves—will delight in A Short History of the Printed Word, too.

I’ll leave you with a few words from the book’s conclusion to let the authors describe their work:

Why so much emphasis here on the physical quality of books? Durability and beauty, like intelligence, are something more than luxuries. They are tactics for survival.

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