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Commentary & Analysis

New Proposal Stresses “Economy of Language” to Save Printing Costs

Last week, the mainstream media were abuzz with the results of a new study—conducted by a 14-year-old-high school student—that found that the U.S. Government could save $400 million by switching typefaces from Times New Roman to Garamond. While the results of this study have not gone without legitimate criticism, that hasn’t stopped others from proposing initiatives that would save the government even more money through changes in typography.

By Richard Romano
Published: April 1, 2014

Last week, the mainstream media were abuzz with the results of a new study—conducted by a 14-year-old-high school student—that found that the U.S. Government could save $400 million by switching typefaces from Times New Roman to Garamond. While the results of this study have not gone without legitimate criticism, that hasn’t stopped others from proposing initiatives that would save the government even more money through changes in typography.

It’s not a new argument. The recent PBS documentary Tales from Typographic Oceans mentions two such movements whose influence goes back several decades. A group called “Down With Descenders!” has long held that the long, dangly bits of letters like gs, js, and ys are a big waste of ink, while the “I Shot the Serif” campaign—their rallying cry being a rewrite of the Bob Marley song—has championed sans serif faces, contending that serifs are a wasteful and obsolete ornamentation that dates from the days of Ancient Rome when text was carved on monuments. “Is there a law that says we have to use serif faces for text?” asks Nero J. Trajan, leader of the movement. “It’s not like it’s written in stone or anything.”

One organization is going even further. The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Econolinguistics (“We don’t use an acronym,” says Institute director Webster Noh. “Acronyms are wasteful and useless. They’re for the weak.”) has an exhaustive set of proposals that, in the wake of the Garamond/Times New Roman kerfuffle, is now before Congress.

“The English language and, in particular, the Latin alphabet—regardless of what font you use—is incredibly wasteful,” says Noh. “And it’s—what?—a few thousand years old? Surely it’s time we modernized something that hasn’t been changed since the Middle Ages. And that was to add letters!”

Some of the Institute’s specific proposals that are being considered by the House of Representatives include:

  • Reduce or eliminate the use of the two widest letters in the alphabet—M and W, especially the uppercase versions.
  • Eliminate the superfluous dots over the letters i and j. “Who needs ’em?” insists Noh.
  • Use only lowercase letters, eliminating ink- and toner-sucking capitals. “It worked for e.e. cummings,” says Noh.
  • That especially means using the lowercase for the first-person pronoun. “Why do we capitalize I anyway? It’s just ink-wasting egomania.”
  • “And while we’re at it, why capitalize the first word of a sentence? The period already tells us we’re starting a new sentence. Instant Messaging users stopped using caps at least a decade ago. I think they were on to something. Or maybe just on something.”
  • Agate type in all government documents. “Spring for a pair of glasses if you can’t read them.”
  • Use smaller words. “Big words are just wasted letters, which just use ink and toner,” says Noh. “Plus, they’re pretentious and no one knows what you’re talking about.”
  • Eliminate em and en dashes. “And who isn’t confused as hell about when to use which one? Screw ’em!”
  • There is one bold idea: get rid of bold type. “Come on. Nothing is that important.”
  • “And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of roman type,” adds Noh. “Italic is far more economical. It worked for Aldus Manutius. What, are you saying you’re better than Aldus Manutius? You want a piece of me?”

The Institute has an even more drastic proposal that the Senate is considering: reducing the size of the alphabet itself. “It’s clear that, as a nation, we simply cannot afford the full set of 26 letters,” says Noh. “The original Latin alphabet had only 23 letters, and it’s only just become bloated with extraneous letters ever since. Even the Greeks get by with only 24. Surely we can do better.” The Institute is pushing for legislation that would mandate a 25% reduction in the size of the Latin alphabet by 2016. Noh would target the least-used letters first. “Any letter that has a Scrabble score value of 5 or more should go.”

As for the most-used—the letter e—the proposed legislation also calls for a 30% reduction in its use. “Think about how much ink, toner, and therefore money would be saved if we simply reduced our use of the ubiquitous letter e,” says Noh. “It’s really just the cockroach of the English language. Heck, Ernest Vincent Wright even wrote an entire 50,000-word novel without ever using a single e. Exterminate ’em!”

He wouldn’t stop with letters; numbers also could use an overhaul. “First of all, no more Roman numerals. All those Is, Vs, Xs, and Cs are a big waste, and who the hell can figure out what Superbowl we’re up to? So, Arabic numerals for all uses.” Exponents would also be recommended wherever possible. “Which uses less ink, 27 or 33? We’d save a bundle.”

Then there’s punctuation. “Parentheses, brackets, and braces? Come on. That’s a luxury we cannot afford. Pick one and stick with it. And semi-colons? Who the ^$#%^ uses semi-colons? What are you, Virginia Woolf? Spring for a whole colon or don’t bother me.”

The Institute’s proposals are not without their detractors, but Noh is adamant that these changes are necessary. “Printing costs are astronomical, and needlessly so. A few simple modifications are vital to reining in out-of-control spending.”

It's that time a year again we thought we would have a little fun. We hope you enjoy our April Fools

Please offer your feedback to Richard. He can be reached at richard@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By PATRICK CAHUET on Apr 01, 2014

is that a Fist of april joke or is that institute that stupid?

 

By Patrick Whelan on Apr 01, 2014

You rock Richard!

 

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