Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Body Of Organised Knowledge

 My last post brings to mind a piece in Punch magazine about an amazing new piece of technology that allowed instant access to information. You could go straight to the part you want, or start at the beginning and work through. It could be easily stored and the information was permanently recorded, etc, etc.

It was called the Body Of Organised Knowledge, or by its acronym BOOK.

Ironically (or perhaps not) I couldn't find reference to this on the internet, so forgive me if I have forgotten the title or the publication... but I don't think I've made it up.

Amen to Artillery

 Looking at old encyclopedias* in a bookshelf** it occurred to me that what with the internet an' all, they are a completely redundant genre. So we no longer get those poetic juxtapositions of headwords at the top of pages and on the spine. Amen to Artillery, Art Nouveau to Begin.

* For younger viewers, an 'encyclopaedia' is a book*** where we used to look up random facts before we had the internet.
** a 'bookshelf' is a place we used to keep books. 
*** a 'book' is a collection of paper pages, glued together in a block. You could read it one page at a time, and then turn to the next page.

If you're wondering why I'm starting to sound like Victor Meldrew, it was my birthday last week and I turned 70. I am feeling a personality change coming on, much like Harry Enfield's character Kevin when he turns 13.

Illegible in 22 languages

We just bought some headphones - tiny in-ear ones. Hat's off to Sony, who have packed them entirely in recyclable material. 

But there's an awful lot to recycle, including four leaflets in 22 languages – both sides are printed in what appears to be 5pt type, possibly smaller.

It's pretty much illegible so why bother? In a recent book chapter* I wrote about consumer contracts in tiny type:

"...can we really say that these business terms have actually been stated in any meaningful way? They might as well have been engraved on a metal plate and fired into space – they would still exist in a theoretical sense, and be no less accessible to consumers."

To give you a sense of scale, in the picture below there's a 2p coin and a type scale (younger designers – you won't know what this is, but we used it to measure typesizes before computers).

*Robert Waller (2022) ‘Designing contracts for human readers’ in Marcelo Corrales, Helena Haapio and Mark Fenwick (eds), Research Handbook on Contract Design, Edward Elgar Publishing.


Wednesday, March 23, 2022


I do like a pun in a business name. Hairdressers do it best of course (Scissor's Palace, Curl Up and Dye, Hairport, Headmasters, etc).

But this church in King's Heath, Birmingham, is having a go, and I recently saw Triniteas on offer at another one...

RIP Martin Thomas

It was so sad to hear of the untimely and sudden death of Martin Thomas on 18 January this year. Martin was a lovely guy and one of those rare linguists who studied the relationship of language and layout. He joined our Simplification Centre team at the University of Reading to work on a multimodal corpus. 

Martin's doctoral thesis studied a genre in which graphics and text have to work together in a confined space for a very particular set of purposes: multilingual toothpaste packaging (Chinese/English). He built up quite a collection.

Long sentence which is convoluted and therefore hard to understand because it has too many nested clauses is found

Occasionally I run plain language training and it's good to teach with examples. Often I have to make them up because I can't find a real life example, so it's nice when a journalist does the job for me.

Thanks, Birmingham Mail: