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*.


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.


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.

Aviation English and the “high romance of flight”.

Flying highThe language of the skies is a special one, and commercial air travel is my favourite thing on (above?) earth. Have you ever listened in on the in-seat cockpit-to-air-traffic-control radio channel? Try it some time. But also read this lovely piece about the parlance of pilots.

“I like how different the language of the sky is from everyday English – indeed, we might give it its own name, Aeroese (though it’s also sometimes, and less aspirationally, called Aviation English). Above all, I love how Aeroese can somehow manage, in its technical, obscuring precision, to capture the high romance of flight – an aspect of my job, no matter how much I love it, that in the cockpit we rarely have reason to consider directly.

…Imagine a plane that flies from London to Bangkok. The pilots speak first to British air-traffic controllers but, just a few minutes after takeoff, the British controllers hand them over to Belgian or Dutch ones, who soon pass them to German controllers, and then to Czech, to Hungarian, to Romanian, to Turkish, to Iranian ones, and so on. It’s hard to imagine a system more in need of a common language. And that language is English (or English-derived Aeroese). When a Venezuelan pilot speaks to a New York air-traffic controller, or when a pilot from Brooklyn speaks to a controller in Caracas, they speak in English. It’s something to marvel at, the first time you fly to Tokyo, say, and you hear an exchange between a Japanese pilot and a Japanese air-traffic controller, both speaking carefully in Japanese-accented English. It’s standardisation and globalisation by force of bare necessity, by force of speed.

Though Aeroese has predominantly English roots, a handful of common meteorological abbreviations have French origins (as do the words fuselage and aileron, of course). BR is Mist (brouillard) GR is Hail (grêle); HN is Sunset to Sunrise (horaire de nuit). MI is Shallow (a usage derived from mince) and BC is Patches (from bancs).

In a heavens-transiting industry, angels are ‘an echo caused by physical phenomena not discernible to the eye… sometimes attributed to insects or birds flying in the radar beam’… Dry snow ‘can be blown if loose, or, if compacted by hand, will fall apart on release’, while Wet snow, ‘if compacted by hand, will stick together and tend to form a snowball; specific gravity: 0.35 up to but not including 0.5’.”

— Mark Vanhoenacker, The Parlance of Pilots

Other highlights:

  • On approaching touchdown, a disembodied voice tells pilots to “DECIDE” whether to proceed or back out.
  • “Speedbird” is cockpit shorthand for a British Airways flight. The maintenance office is “Speedbird Library”.
  • There are set pronunciation rules, especially for numbers, to avoid confusion.
  • Waypoints are identified by five-letter abbreviations, some very wry. “Many waypoint names are gibberish, but others are more colourful – DRAKE in the English Channel (for Sir Francis); BARBQ near Kansas City; WHALE in the Mediterranean, off Benghazi. When descending to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, fans of the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons will enjoy this sequence: ITAWT ITAWA PUDYE TTATT (followed by IDEED).”
  • The on-board satellite phone is actually called the Batphone.
  • The pilot-to-pilot ‘chat’ frequency is 123.45Hz.

“Is Australian English even a thing?”

YES. It is. Trust me. 

Dr. Lynne Murphy recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of her (wonderful, intelligent and impressively well-researched) blog Separated by a Common Language by sharing a list of her most-visited posts from 2010 to present. And what really struck me,  as often does when reading her blog, is that Australian English is so different yet again — we might use the US English word for one thing and the UK English word for another, or we might have a completely different word for it altogether.

The following isn’t an exhaustive demonstration by any means, but based on Lynne’s blogiversary list:

  • Bed sizes. As Lynne points out, the Australian system differs from both the US and UK alternatives. (I have never heard the term small double, and the Australian dimensions for single, double, queen and king are all different from the US/UK ones anyway.)
  • “Do you have…?” vs. “Have you got…?”. In Australia I’m quite sure nobody would notice if you said one or the other.
  • Valet and filet. In Australia we pronounce valet as “val-AY” like Americans, not “val-let” like the Brits. But fillet is pronounced and spelled the British way: we use a FIL-leting knife to FIL-let a fish, with two Ls and a hard T. Aussies only use the US/French “fil-LAY” pronunciation for Francophone/meat-related specificities like filet mignon. (In the same post, Lynne discusses schedule with a “sk–” (US) versus a “sh–” (UK). This one can go either way in Australia, although at some point in your life someone will probably tell you that your way is wrong and theirs is right.)
  • Australians grew up hitting pound — # — on a phone (US English), as opposed to hash (UK).* Hash is mostly reserved for hashtag.
  • And I grew up throwing slumber parties (US) not pyjama parties (UK)**
  • … but the Macquarie Dictionary, the standard reference for Australian English, has woah (UK) not whoa (US), and we definitely say maths (UK) not math (US).

Lynne’s big list of vegetables is probably the best proof that Australian English isn’t the same as UK English or US English. We eat eggplant, zucchini, endive and snow peas (US) – not aubergine, courgette, chicory and mange tout (UK) … but we also have rocket, beetroot, spring onion and cos (UK) – not arugula, beet, scallion and romaine (US). Not to mention that what US and UK English both call a pepper is a capsicum in Australia — where pepper is the thing that goes with salt — and pretty much all gourds count as pumpkins — squash refers only to pattypan (US) or summer (UK) squash.

From the untranslatables list — words that exist in either UK or US English but not both — Australian English does actually have some translations.

  • Lie-in (n., UK English only) = sleep-in — as in “I had a great sleep-in on the weekend”.
  • For kitty-corner (US only), we just say “diagonally across from”.
  • Builder’s tea (UK) sounds like Australian camp tea, bush tea or billy tea.
  • AU English does have the US poster child (UK does not), but like UK English does not have the US crunchy (as in hippie-ish).
  • Like US English we do not have a word for the UK overegging (overdoing) or the US tailgating (partying in the parking lot at a sporting event) but do have the US word antsy (anxious and jumpy) and the UK locum (a temporary replacement doctor).

So the next time someone says “Isn’t Australian English just the same as British English?” or “What exactly do you do for a living?”, maybe I’ll direct them to this blog post (hello, reader). I might even invite them to read Speaking Our Language — a fantastic book on how Australian English came to be, which does much to dispel the prejudice against Australian English as a bastardised version of the original “pure” English.

What I won’t do is provide an exhaustive itemised list of the differences between the three, or a statistical breakdown, in percentages, of how much AU English is like or unlike UK and US English. That is an impossibility, even for me.


*See this TRULY DELIGHTFUL explanation of the hash/pound/octothorpe, including some zombie-related typographical art.

**But we do spell pyjama the British way (as opposed to the US pajama).


#$*&^! = 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)

A Kindleworm by any other name (and exciting news for OED lovers)

[EDIT: Sadly, http://www.oed.com no longer works, and even the link to it from Oxford Dictionaries Online is broken. Sincerest apologies on my behalf for getting us all excited, and for not realising sooner.]

The straw that finally broke my anti-Kindle camel’s back was the fact that Kindle comes loaded with the full Oxford English Dictionary [ALSO EDIT: I meant (and still mean) the Oxford Dictionary OF English. I unforgivably use OED as a generic term, though I know there are some who would drop a thesaurus on my head for such an offence.], thus overcoming the two main obstacles previously prohibiting my access to said lexicographical bible: price, and bulk. (My only other accessway was online, through the student login left over from my university days. Not coincidentally, that student login is my favourite souvenir as an alumnus).

Anyway, I bought a Kindle as soon as I realised this (while playing Scrabble in a Kindle-owning friend’s dictionary-less house). And thereafter, when asked whether Kindle “is good?”, my most likely answer has been “IT HAS THE *WHOLE* OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY *IN* IT. YES is good.”

Now this doesn’t mean I no longer love “real” books. I do. Very much.

I have an inconveniently large number of books in my new home. (At least, relocating them from my old home – and chromatically arranging them again – was inconvenient.)

I also have one of these…

…on my desk at work.

Yes, it’s a giant fuzzy bookworm, otherwise known as helluo librorum.


Helluo librorum.

The OED is online!



No subscription (or university alumnus login) required!

And @OxfordWords tweets the Word Of The Day!

Now this doesn’t mean I no longer love Kindle…


The Oxford comma: dead at the hands of serial killers

I give a #%*^ about the Oxford comma.  I’m known for giving a #%*^ about the Oxford comma. But sadly, this sudden palaver over its threatened extinction (at the hands of its eponymous university, no less) is just a bureaucratic nail in an already-long-buried coffin. As a proofreader in Australia, I must (at least during working hours) adhere to the ‘current trends’ in Australian writing style, and that means NO SERIAL COMMAS EVER (except if absolutely needed for the sake of clarity, which isn’t any fun at all).

So as far as I’m (professionally) concerned, the Oxford comma has already been eradicated, or is at least seriously endangered, teetering on the brink of extinction. It lingers only as a ghost, destroyed by a gradual succession of serial killers*: style guides in ruthless pursuit of minimalist punctuation.

R, I, P.

Over at Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams has already said almost everything else I would say on the topic. Most importantly, she a) clarifies the extent to which Oxford University is eliminating its eponymous comma (that is, no more than most institutions already have); and b) embedded the obvious Vampire Weekend video clip.

Now, two things about this video clip: Firstly, its total number of hits must have jumped phenomenally in the past 24 hours. Secondly, IT WAS DIRECTED BY THE WONDERFUL RICHARD AYOADE (of The IT Crowd, of course). And if that isn’t a joyful note on which to end a sombre post, I don’t know what is.

*Yes, I went there.