Space mission patches are the best.

Valentina Tereshkova patch

The history of Soviet mission patches begins with one of space travel’s most significant achievements. In 1963, Valentina Teresknova made history as the first woman in space. Her call sign was Chayka—Seagull—and under it, she completed 48 orbits of Earth. As she did so, hidden from view, sewn onto the thermal garment under her orange space suit, was the first mission emblem. It depicted a dove of peace flying in the sun’s rays, and underneath, in blocky red text, the letters CCCP. Teresknova called it a seagull, after her call sign.

Atlas Obscura

A few months ago I met an astronaut at the Intrepid Museum. He was extremely extremely cool — patient, friendly, relaxed in front of a crowd, excited about his work and the bigger picture of doing science in space. And he had the coolest collection of patches (including one for 100 days in space).

They’re a bit like grown-up Boy Scouts/Girl Guides patches — or a more child-like, illustrated version of standard military ribbons/medals. Either way, I’ve always found the visual symbolism — narrative, yet independent of spoken or written language — fascinating and delightful.

Apollo 11 Patch

In other words, I really want this book.

Typeset in the Future

AKA My New Favourite Place On The Internet

There’s not much I can say about Typeset in the Future except that as soon as I found it I knew, completely and absolutely, that it was the most relevant-to-my-niche-interests place on the internet. It was like… mmmmagic.

There is even a Venn diagram to describe the target audience, and we know how much I love Venn diagrams*.

overlap

That overlap is my niche. It’s escapist and utopian, and the kerning is always perfect.

To illustrate, an excerpt from the end of the 2001: A Space Odyssey analysis:

This final part of the film is visually eclectic, aurally stunning and philosophically challenging. Many thousands of words have been penned over the decades to try and fathom the meaning of the monolith, and the genesis and future of the space-baby. However, none of this act contains typography, and it is therefore of no concern to us. Let’s skip to the end credits.

2001_directed

It’s Futura again, with an M borrowed from Gill Sans, and a W that I don’t recognize from anywhere. Goodnight!

*Remind me to update those images some time. Yeesh.

List: Untranslation.

“A foot brushes your ankle on a peak-hour bus
Someone’s hand on the small of your back as they pass
A shopkeeper’s fingers while handing you change
Can lightly brush yours without feeling too strange.

But why I felt so alive I can’t quite determine
There could be a word to explain it in German…”

Elbows, Darren Hanlon.

I feel I’m forever hearing that non-English languages are much better at describing profoundly complex, delicately nuanced concepts with simple, single words and phrases.

The example that comes to mind is the Japanese phrase mono no aware, which I first heard described as “the bittersweet impermanence of all things, as epitomised by the beautifully brief cherry-blossom season”.*

{ from Wordstuck, which you should definitely be following }

Such an astonishingly complex description of a profoundly human condition. To encapsulate so much meaning in six syllables is a truly adept feat of human language. In a word, deft.

The internet, often visually, alerts me to other lovely and/or gigglesome examples:


{ vague and nebulous }


{ via weheartit }





{ more from Wordstuck }

Not-so-plain English

The thing is, English is also riddled with magical words that somehow pinpoint un-pin-downable ideas. One need only read one of Mark Forsyth’s books (or just his blog, actually) to realise that. If you’ve thought “there should be a word for that” it’s quite likely there is a word in English for it. But it’s also quite likely that word has fallen into disuse — from lack of utility, or despite its seemingly timeless utility.

This, of course, is my cue to again poke you in the ribs and encourage a reading (or rereading) of Reading the OED. Having done so, I’d include apricity (the pleasant warmth of the sun in winter) in my active vocabulary for at least half of the year if it was fashionable to do so.** Living in any city, you would think there are plenty of occasions to use peristeronic (adj., suggestive of pigeons), solivagant (n., one who wanders about alone) and fornale (v., to spend all one’s money before it has been earned). But nobody does. And then we muse wistfully about the rambling-cottage-garden–like magnanimity of other languages, when it seems we’ve wilfully whittled our own language into something simpler and less eloquent, in some sort of 1984-ish search for efficiency.

Humbly untranslatable

Where things really get interesting is at the subtler, simpler level — the different between different varieties of regular, everyday English. On her blog Separated By A Common Language, M. Lynne Murphy has a semi-regular (annual) summary of “untranslatables”: UK English words that have no apparent natural analogue in US English — and vice versa. Many aren’t even as endemic as slang — think punter (UK) and trailer trash (US) rather than ma’m and rad.

The most fascinating realisation, as an Australian proofreader: although AU English often seems terribly akin to UK English while sharing traits that some would call “super American”, most of these untranslatables seem completely native to me — and I’m astounded to think that any native English speaker wouldn’t feel the same. Only Americans eyeball things rather than measuring them accurately? Americans don’t fancy other people in the romantic sense?

Then again, most of the 2012 untranslatables I’d never heard of at all (crunchy-earthy? GUBBINS?) so perhaps I just need to get out more. Who’d like to sponsor my extended transatlantic holida– …erm, research trip?*** I might have a touch of the old wanderlust. Itchy feet. Fernweh.

*Japanese also gives us kintsukuroi:
tumblr_mvhzylzYaE1qfvq9bo1_500
My mother is a potter, and as a little girl I was quite enamoured with those seemingly organic veins of gold winding through otherwise stony ceramics.

**Okay, so I do anyway.

***I might have said vacati– here, to the same effect. But Australia favours the British option here, and so must I.

An A–Z of Unusual Words.

I have noticed that other people are also noticing — and illustrating — the obscure, almost-forgotten corners of our language. Wallflower words, if you will. So rather than wax lyrical I’ll just share visuals, from The Project Twins A–Z of Unusual Words.

These images explore the meaning behind the words, which are sometimes even more strange or unusual. This project explores the synthesis between form and content, and words and images with the aim of producing work that is both visually interesting and informative.

Dactylion: An anatomical landmark located at the tip of the middle finger…
(Relevant to those who practise yoga.)

Montivagant: Wandering over hills and mountains…
(Relevant to those afflicted with bucolic wanderlust.)

Pogonotrophy: The act of cultivating, or growing and grooming, a moustache, beard, sideburns or other facial hair…
(Relevant in this charitably hairy month.)

Vernalagnia: A romantic mood brought on by Spring…
(Seasonally relevant, depending on your hemisphere.)

PS. The Project Twins also did a completely charming piece — “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” — for the completely charming Illustrated Beatles collection.

#$*&^! = Grawlix

>> A word for that: Grawlix

Until its OED entry is solemnized, we’ll have to settle for this definition on Wiktionary: “grawlixn. A string of typographical symbols used (especially in comic strips) to represent an obscenity or swear word.” I don’t think I’ll ever look at a character set quite the same way again.

%^&*@ing glorious!

Read the whole thing at Hoefler & Frere-Jones (via @GrammarMonkeys and @mental_floss)

Better than alphagetti*: edible gelatin typography

{ via Colossal }

Current distraction: wondering about the mouthfeel. Chewy? Sticky? Sans-serifs-y? Alphagetti?*

(Subsequent distraction: the curious difference between American “jelly”, which is Australian “jam”, and Australian “jelly”, which is American “jello”.)

 

*If it’s named after what it clearly IS named after, shouldn’t there be an H after that G?