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I admit to being a typography fan — that is the science and art of the shape of letters and how they look on the page. I’ve learned just enough to know I don’t know enough, and enough (so I like to think) to spot good and bad examples. These days, authors need to be more aware than ever about the effective use of fonts, so it’s something that sticks with me. The fonts chosen for any project not only convey an instant emotion, they convey a message. That emotion and message can be strengthened or considerably weakened by font and typographic choices.

Fonts can be elegant, or noisy, or fun, or mocked (comic sans, anyone?). They can convey the tone of a document before we’ve read a single word. A font can instantly identify something, say, The New York Times. They can give you a headache, make you squint, or leave you uncertain about the difference between letters. Is that a lower-case L or the number 1? Microsoft, infamously, in my opinion, used just such a font in some of its early server software. With computers, the difference between l and 1 is huge. To this day I remain baffled by the decision to use a font with ambiguities like that.

Typography has been in the news lately in the form of the observation that dyslexics reading a page with fewer words on it find it much, much easier to make sense of the letters. And by page, is meant screen. People with dsylexia AND a smart phone or tablet, can increase the font-size and decrease the noise on the page, and thereby make it easier to read. See this Marketplace report of August 21. While there’s a link to audio, the summary has a good synopsis of the findings.

To all the people who scorn eBooks just because they’re not paper, here’s proof that the technology has benefits, and huge ones, that paper books don’t offer. If I need or want to read with a smaller or larger font at any time in my reading experience, I can do so. I do not need to buy the large print edition.

This is sans serif.

This is serif.

In mulling over the subject of this post, I did some Googling. There are websites that claim the sans-serif (no curly-cues) was invented in the early 1800’s and was called the “egyptian font.” This is only sort of true. (see Wikipedia.) Sans serif lettering goes back to ancient alphabets, but it was, indeed, during the Regency period, that sans-serif fonts became what you might call a thing…and that’s even though there were sans-serif fonts developed in the mid-1700’s.

Sans-serif letters began to appear in printed media as early as 1805, in European Magazine. However, early-19th-century commercial sign writers and engravers had modified the sans-serif styles of neoclassical designers to include uneven stroke weights found in serif Roman fonts, producing sans-serif letters.[3]

In 1816, the Ordnance Survey began to use ‘Egyptian’ type, which was printed using copper plate engraving of monoline sans-serif capital letters, to name ancient Roman sites.

I will leave you with this thought: Technology has made it trivial to examine typefaces of the past. Call it evil or the greatest thing since sliced bread, but Google Books with its image view of the books they scanned, means we can leaf through the typographical past with ease.

Do you have a favorite font?

I am very partial to Palatino.

In Sunday’s Washington Post there was an article about Google’s effort to digitize all the books in the Stanford University Library…and their dream to digitize all the books in the world.

Here is the article “Search Me? Google Wants to Digitize Every Book. Publishers Say Read the Fine Print First” August 13, 2006
(you may have to register with The Washington Post to read it)

In a nutshell, Google will digitize Stanford’s collection and provide what they consider “fair use” of the material. They will provide the ability to search the text of the books, but will only show “snippets” of the work, what they feel fits the “fair use” stipulations of copyright law. I won’t go into the complicated details, but suffice to say that the Author’s Guild and several publishers have filed suit against Google.

I’m ambivalent.

As an author, it makes a frisson of trepidation crawl up my spine, like discovering someone stealing my book without paying for it. Google argues against this, but the gist of the lawsuits have to do with using material without renumeration for the publisher or author, who create the book in the first place.

As a researcher, however, my response is, “Wow!” Imagine all that information at my fingertips! Imagine me being able to enter “Castle Inn Brighton 1816” (a setting of my next Warner book, Desire In His Eyes, aka Blake’s story, now in the revision stage). It would take me hours in a library, days perhaps, to search out such information. Wouldn’t it be great if I could have it at my fingertips?

Then I think of out-of-print books, like The Regency Companion by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa L Hamlin. I am lucky enough to have obtained a copy of this regency research classic years ago by bidding $40 on ebay on a Thanksgiving evening, but now lists this book as going for a low of $224.50 and a high of $595.00. Obviously this puts the book out of reach for 99.9% of regency writers and readers, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone had access to its information?

Well, what would be great is if Laudermilk and Hamlin would just authorize a re-release of the book. I’d happily buy another copy! If it were a searchable e-book copy, like Dee Hendrickson’s Regency Reference Book, I’d like it even better.

I empathize with the fact that Laudermilk and Hamlin didn’t get one penny of the money I spent on their book, and would not get a penny of that $595, if anyone chose to spend such an amount. If I think of this being multiplied a brazillion amount of times for every author—-shudder! There goes that frisson again.

What do you, dear readers and friends, think of Google’s plan? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Posted in Reading, Writing | Tagged | 5 Replies

I’ve been researching horse racing for an Undone story, checking through Google Books, finding
Royal Ascot: its history & its associations by George James Cawthorne and Richard S. Herod. I had to chuckle when I read this:

No one did more to promote the interests of the Turf and to establish horse racing as a national pastime than Tregonwell Frampton, of Moreton, in Dorsetshire. “The Father of the Turf,” as he has been called, was born in 1642, and was keeper of the Royal Running Horses….Mr. Frampton was the cunningest jockey of his day, but his methods were not always above suspicion. In the celebrated match between North and South…Mr. Frampton attempted to deceive his rival by adding 7 lb. to the agreed weight

Who knew Megan’s “ancestor” was a jockey, a sometimes crooked one?

That got me thinking….If I searched Google Books what sort of “ancestors” would I find for the other Riskies?

I decided to search Full View only, between the years 1700 to 1900, but it quickly became apparent that “McCabe” was only going to yield authors named McCabe. I altered the plan to include only Google Books in “my library.” There were no McCabe ancestors in “my library” and no Mullanys either.

Here’s what I found for Greene in A History of the Peninsular War, Volume 5 By Charles Oman and John Alexander Hall:

Gardiner’s, Douglas’s, Lawson’s, and Elige’s [now temporarily under 2nd Captain W. Greene, Elige having been killed at the Salamanca forts] companies were present at Salamanca, as was also the Reserve Artillery, but the last-named was not engaged. Elige was shot through the heart on the second day of the siege of the Salamanca forts. 2nd Captain W. Greene commanded the company at the battle of Salamanca

Leave it to Elena to have a heroic “early relation.”

But what of Carolyn? I found Jewel immediately in Nimrod’s Hunting Tours

There are three bitches in Mr. Villebois’ kennel which must not be passed over—namely, Priestess, Madcap, and Jewel; …Jewel is by Foreman (sire of Lady)out of Jezebel. Jewel is the dam of Juryman and Jovial, two uncommonly fine hounds…Jewel has got a bone in the mouth of her stomach, which she cannot get rid of, and which prevents her hunting; but from her blood and shape she is invaluable in the stud.

Somehow I don’t think that Jewel could possibly be Carolyn’s “ancestor” (and OMIGOSH did you notice one of the dogs in the painting is relieving itself????).

Do you use Google Books? Do you have a favorite? I think mine is Waterloo Days by Charlotte Eaton.

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The last couple of days in the blogosphere there’s been some discussion about the origin of vampire novels. A lot of these little kerfluffles I don’t care much about, though I skim with amusement and a certain sense of horror through such Internet/writing tropes as Authors Behaving Badly and the like.

The vampire thing got me interested so I fired up Google Books and did some searching. The history is pretty much as you’d expect. Horace Walpole’s 1765 Castle Of Otranto is the first ghost story/supernatural story, though I would think that Mallory’s La Morte D’Arthur deserves a nod in that realm given all the supernatural elements. However, the latter isn’t a story about a ghost, and Castle of Otranto is.

I did not expect, therefore, to find any novels about vampires prior to 1765 and my somewhat cursory review of Google Books bears this out. There are, however, quite a lot of writings that mention vampires. I exclude, of course, discussions of vampire bats, botany and other vampire references that don’t refer to mythical (or are they?) blood suckers.

One fascinating finding was the sheer number of writings in French. My French is barely good enough to get a sense of the works, but essays and definitions abound.

There are any number of essays debunking the existence of vampires some of which are interesting in as much as the authors were not aware that a corpse shrinks a bit and therefore it can look as if fingernails, toes and hair have grown after death, when it’s really just corporeal shrinkage causing the effect. Attempts to explain this away can get your brain in a knot.

As an aside, the contextual ads that appear on the results page of such a search are tres amusant. Did you know you could meet local Vampire singles? Gauranteed Real Sexy Vampires!

As a warning, the old fashioned S that looks pretty much like an F comes into play in literary discussions of vampires. It’s a bit disconcerting at first to see phrases that are actually variants of the verb suck rendered with what looks like an F instead. Vampires: Blood Fuckers. Apparently I’m 12 at heart. Do you suppose anyone giggled uncontrollably back in 1712?

I say, George, let’s read Father’s essay on Vampires again.

Noted vampire books:

  • The Nightcap by Louis-Sebastien Mercier 1784. This may be one huge boring essay but for the part about blood fucking, er, sucking vampires.
  • I was briefly thrilled to find a book about Charlemagne; Histoire de L’empereur. Alas, it’s an OCR error. The phrase l’empire has been mistaken for vampire. Imagine the thrill of find out someone thought Charlemagne was a vampire! I would have cracked out the French/English dictionary to translate that one.
  • Everybody’s favorite Regency bad boy, none other than Lord Byron himself had a bit to say about vampires. The Works of Lord Byron specifically, a non-fiction bit about Eblis, the Oriental Prince of Darkness.
  • Robert Southey also got in on the vampire thing, in Thalaba the Destroyer
  • And, last, I think, but by no means least, John William Polidori wrote The Vampyre in 1819. Polidori, as you may know was Byron’s physician and one of the ones who rose to the now famous challenge Hey! Let’s write a novel! that produced Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1897. But that’s a whole other century (from the 1700’s) Edited to add: In case I type the numbers in the wrong order AGAIN, that’s Eighteen Ninty Seven!

So, who’s your favorite vampire? Charlemagne or Eric?

(Yes, that’s a joke. My love of Alexander Skarsgard as Eric on True Blood is well known in certain circles. I’m just widening the circle.)

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I’m being a bit naughty in this post so move along if such things bother you word-wise. I limited my search to books publishing in the years 1811 – 1820 and written in English. The language restriction didn’t work too well as foreign language books were still returned. But, let’s carry on. Perhaps we’ll put to rest some assumptions or prove them. Which will it be? Regardless, I think the results will be interesting.

I am sorry (I think, but then again, maybe not) that as I followed down this iniquitous path, I started giggling and perhaps going a bit off track. Oh well. You are forewarned. This post degenerates quickly. You might want to stop while it’s still safe.


How, exactly, was this word used in the Regency period? As a verb connoting a certain sexual practice? A verb more slightly less specific or perhaps an expletive? The answer appears to be all of the above. Claims that the word was less broadly used than it is today seem to be incorrect.

25 books returned

A few are clearly irrelevant, but just looking at the results we see the word being used in a name-calling sense; In The Lexicom Balatronicum: A blackguard, rascal, term of reproach. But in sources drawn from trials, we see the sexual sense: A Relation of a Quaker, that to the Shame of his Profession, attempted to bugger a Mare… as well as several examples of the word used as an expletive.


Oh my

Apparently, this is also a Dutch word. And there are some rather amusing typos where the letter P has been mistaken for F and rendered Shakespeare differently than one would expect. Also, and this is really VERY amusing to me, the Google OCR could not correctly render the long squiggly lowercase letter s that in many books of the period looks a lot like an f but isn’t. Thus instances of say, suck, sucking, sucker and the like become versions of the F-bomb. In fact, the innocent word such comes in for its share of OCR maddness with the ch being reported as ck along with s being replaced with f…

Although this was a very amusing search, it would take hours to find actual instances of the F-word so I’m moving on.


226 results

Referring, of course, quite naughtily, to a certain part of female anatomy. However, it is also a perfectly innocent nut, and a common and rather boring word in Latin. Also a city and someone’s last name. Oh. Gee. I’m leaving this one and moving on.


486 results

Lots of boring medical texts, though I’m sure there are pictures. Samuel Cooper’s 1815 book Surgery has my favorite excerpt:

When the attempt fails leeches should be applied to the glans, and the flow of blood be afterwards promoted by immersing the penis in warm water

That does not sound very fun.


Hah! The ladies win!! 500 results

Well well well. What have we here? From the Encyclopaedia Perthensis; Or Universal Dictionary of the Arts, Sciences… Volume 2, 1816

The clitoris is a small spongy body bearing some slight analogy and resemblance to the penis in men… This part has been supposed to be the chief seat of a woman’s pleasure in coition as the glans penis is in men, but this is somewhat doubtful.

We can now officially stop saying the clitoris was unknown or nobody knew it might be an important bit for the women. Women surely figured this out on their own, but it seems there were men with a clue. Thank you.


3 results

To be honest, I expected this. Back in the day, the asshole was a mechanical part; the place for receiving ashes under the grate…. And, alas, we must reduce the search results by one because one of the books is an odd Google OCR error. The text shows the word asshole but the actual page says the whole.

which leads me directly to…


618 results

Pretty much what you’d expect. So here’s some interesting bits.

From A compleat collection of English proverbs which seems to be something on the order of a Barlett’s Quotations.

  • You would kiss my arse before my breeches are down.
  • Kit careless, your arse hangs by trumps
  • Proverbial similies, in which the Quality and the Subject begin with the same letter:

    as bare as a bird’s arse

And there, I’m done with my juvenile traipse through Google Books. I had fun. Did you?

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