Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sans everything

I've been writing some notes on the choice between seriffed and sans serif type. Or should that be sanserif type, one colleague asked?

On checking a few dictionaries within two minutes radius of my desk, there are votes for both:

Oxford English Dictionary, 1933 (sans serif not given as an alternative)
Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 (sans serif given as alternative)
Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, 1952
Collins Online Scrabble Checker allows it

Sans serif
Pitman's Dictionary of Advertising & Printing, 1930
Longmans Dictionary of Contemporary English (online 2010)
Merriam-Webster (online 2010)

Seeking refuge in usage statistics, the British National Corpus has few mentions of either, with the vote tipped toward sans serif (14, with sanserif clocking up 8, but no mention of sans-serif). The Corpus of Contemporary American English has just 32 mentions of sans serif, with no mentions of sanserif, and 15 of sans-serif.

I'm concluding from this brief escape from my to-do list that: sanserif, sans serif and sans-serif are all valid usages; that sanserif is British, and not found in the USA.

The OED also has a variant 'surryph' which I take to be the New Zealand usage.

And finally, older readers will recall the famous Guardian supplement on the Republic of San Serriffe, published on 1 April 1977.