Got the fearin’, power steerin’ — Thoughts from Panama

The second-best part of my job as the art director for the National Association for Interpretation is having the opportunity to connect with interpretive professionals at conferences and workshops. (The first-best part of my job is Coffee Tuesday.) I’ve just returned from NAI’s International Conference in Panama, where I was extremely fortunate to spend a few days in an amazing environment with talented, interesting people from around the world—a welcome break from emailing with Shea all day.

As with anywhere I go, I had my camera at the ready.

I took this photo because I like capybaras. They remind me of the Rodents of Unusual Size in the movie The Princess Bride. However, much of the discussion about this sign has focused on the unusual letter spacing in the word ANIMALS. One theory is that the person designing the sign inadvertently wrote the Spanish ANIMALES and then didn’t close the space (or only closed it halfway) after correcting the mistake. My theory is that the designer incorrectly pluralized ANIMALS with an apostrophe, then read IBD’s Grammar Pet Peeves and yellowed-out the mistake.

These are both stupid theories.

Notice the nuanced communication in this sign. The iguanas appear to be smiling. This is because it makes them happy when people slow down instead of running them over.

I posted this on my personal Facebook page, and Friend of IBD Amy Ford commented, “So, does this mean to watch out for big AND little iguanas? Mom iguanas and their babies? I’m confused.” Then, about three hours later, she commented again, “I’m sure you put this up there for us to comment that they used some stock clip art, as well…didn’t even bother to flip them…just changed the size.”

Clearly, Amy is a tormented soul and gave this sign way too much thought—which, of course, we here at IBD love.

I thought at first that the bird in this tour operator’s logo was a rip-off of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ mascot, the Pittsburgh Parrot. But then I realized that there are only about 50 people in the world who have actually been to a Pirates game and seen the mascot, so that was unlikely.

The typeface in the logo is called Lithos, also known as the Jurassic Park font.

This was on my bathroom mirror. I like the interpretive message, “We are invading their territory. Please don’t destroy them.” I also like to think that as soon as this Photoshop collage was completed, the lizard ate that ladybug.

The conference included a visit to the future site of the BioMuseo, an amazing and elaborate facility designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry, who was once called a “one-trick pony” by noted architectural critic and bow-tie aficionado Shea Lewis.

This was in front of a boat dock near the Panama Canal. It supports my theory that nothing says “Important, Authoritative Message” like a big Mickey Mouse hand.

I attended an off-site session to the indigenous Emberá village on the Chagres River. While everyone else was learning from and interacting with the extremely gracious and welcoming community members, I was taking photos of signs. It’s a sickness.

When I saw this sign, found at the indigenous community of Salt Creek, I was happy for the warning and turned to walk the other way. Of course, I was horrified when our guide and the rest of the group started walking down the trail toward the caimans—even more so when our guide started throwing sticks into the water to attract the caimans’ attention. I tried to explain that caimans are a lot like crocodiles, and everyone told me to shut up.

He went thataway.

Finally, Panama is a rich and rewarding visual experience, and to experience it at its fullest, you must sit across from Jeff Miller at the hotel breakfast buffet. This is some of the most effective camouflage I’ve ever seen.

The Great Space Debate: To Single- or Double-Space After a Period

A while back, I declared my allegiance to the serial comma, and I am ready to take another stand.

I believe that double-spacing after a period at the end of a sentence is outdated, clunky, and typographically unsound. (While I’m at it, I also believe that college football’s postseason format is fraudulent, the designated hitter rule is silly, Conan O’Brien was treated unfairly, and Arrested Development was taken off the air way too soon.)

This is not exactly a cutting-edge opinion, but there are still plenty of people out there using the antiquated post-period double space. This is fine if you’re writing e-mails or crafting ransom notes from magazine clippings, but if you’re creating professional-quality printed materials, the single space is the way to go.

monospace-1The double space after periods was a standard in the days of typewriters, which used monospaced typefaces in which each letter or grammatical mark, whether a capital M or an apostrophe, is given the same amount of space. The typeface Courier, pictured here with ugly, gaping double-space holes after the periods, mimics a typewriter and is an example of a monospaced typeface. (Note the way the characters line up in columns, delineated here with pinstripes, because of the monospacing.) The thinking at the time was that the double space helped provide a visual break between sentences, but when the computer came along and allowed for more subtle variations in spacing, the double space became obsolete.

proportional-1Since the advent of the computer, most typefaces are proportional, allotting the appropriate amount of space for each typographic character, including spaces after periods. See the typeface Minion, set with elegant, contemporary single spaces, in the example here.

These days, most style guides, including The Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press, call for the single space. Another proponent of the single space is Robin Williams (the not-funny female graphic designer and author, not the not-funny male actor), who has written several books on technology and graphic design, such as The Mac is Not a Typewriter, The PC is Not a Typewriter, and The Non-Designer’s Design Book.

You’ll notice that nearly all professionally designed printed materials (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) utilize the single space. The double space after a period looks especially silly if you are using justified type, which already skews word- and letterspacing to force lines of text into a certain amount of space.

The proponents of two spaces after a period seem to harp on the same point: I was taught that way. Many are trying to stop but can’t. Others refuse to hear reason, desperately clinging to their Sholes & Glidden typewriter in one hand, waving the jagged end of a broken moonshine bottle at you with the other.

In the end, there is technically no right or wrong when it comes to spacing after periods, unless you are obligated to follow one of the many style guides out there that call for the single space. But then again, there’s technically no right or wrong when it comes to wearing tapered jeans and paisley shirts, and people do that, too.

Paul’s Grammar Pet Peeves: Part 2 is Comprised of Five Points

The first installment of Paul’s Grammar Pet Peeves, “Part 1 of Literally Millions,” garnered literally fives of comments, some of them from people I didn’t even go to college with. So it’s clear to me that nothing excites you, the IBD reader, like reading about things that annoy me. With that, I give you five more pet peeves!

Comprised of/Composed of
The phrase comprise means to include or to be made up of. For instance, you could correctly say, “Shea Lewis’s wardrobe comprises many sweater vests.” The word compose means to make or form. So you could say, “Shea Lewis’s wardrobe is composed of many pastel shirts.”

shea-PaulSimonWhen you say this: “Shea Lewis’s wardrobe is comprised of stylish and contemporary clothing,” you are both factually and grammatically off the mark. Not only does Shea look like the late Illinois Senator Paul Simon when he goes out in public, but the phrase is comprised of is grammatically nonsensical. It translates from English to English as is included of or is made up of of. (Thanks to Nick Racine for pointing out that Paul Simon was a senator from Illinois, not Minnesota, as I originally posted. I must have been thinking of Al Franken, who is a senator from Minnesota and played Paul Simon on Saturday Night Live.)

Lie/Lay
I frequently hear people say that they are tired and need to lay down. This makes sense only if they are carrying a large, heavy box, which would explain why they are tired and what they intend to lay down. Usually, however, they are not carrying anything and what they mean to say is that they need to lie down. The act of laying (time to put on our mature faces, people) requires a direct object (stay with me, I see those smirks), as in, “I need to lay down this large, heavy box.” When you position yourself in the angle of repose, you are lying down.

What complicates this one is the past tense. The past tense of lay is laid; the past tense of lie is lay. Not to mention what happens when you’re talking about those Hawaiian flower necklaces: “I laid down those leis and then lay down.” (Note: Thanks to Sarena Gill for catching my misuse of “your” in the previous example. Sarena is no longer welcome here.)

Its/It’s
Okay, so this is one of those quirks that makes people learning English as a second language want to stab native English speakers in the neck with a fork. Adding an apostrophe-S to a word makes it possessive. Just adding an S makes it plural. So why, then, does adding apostrophe-S to “it” not make it possessive? And why is it that just adding an S to it does make it possessive? The simple answer is that “it’s” already serves as the conjunction “it is,” so to make it less confusing, we English speakers invented a new rule that applies only to this one tiny word, making “its” possessive, thereby confusing everybody. You’re welcome, speakers of other languages.

One technique to try is to replace all instances of “it’s” with “it is” or “it has” and see if it works. Then replace all instances of “its” with “his or her” and see if that works. If it does, then you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, you are ready for a career as a writer for The New York Post.

Everyday/Every Day
DaveMatthewsBandEverydayEveryday (one word) is most commonly an adjective, but it can also be a noun. It means commonplace or ordinary. Every day (two words) is an adjective followed by a noun. The phrase simply means daily. For example: “Every day, the everyday activities of my life make me want to stab myself in the neck with a fork.”

Here’s another sentence to consider: “Every day, I think that Dave Matthews should have had a grammarian look at his album cover before he named an entire album ‘Everyday,’ unless he actually meant to say that his music is average or ordinary.”

Presently/Currently
Presently means soon. Currently means now. If you say you’re on your way presently, it means you haven’t left yet. If you say you’re on your way currently, then you are actually en route.