The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Umrao Jaan Without Its Rekha

with 4 comments

It seems some people hate typefaces with letterforms that are intended to mimic another script. (E.g., these, or this logo of Café Spice, a terrible food place at MIT):

Café Spice logo

Here is Carla Filmigeek with some examples including the Arabic-esque Devanagari for the new Umrao Jaan, calling them

too cutesy, an ersatz fetishization that bastardizes the true beauty and diversity of the world’s writing systems.

Thanks to India Amos for commenting; there is this article by Jessica Helfand:

But on some level, the line is a murky one: what’s the difference between a celebrity making an unforgivable racist remark and a typographer making a font that clumsily perpetuates a cultural stereotype?

Similarly, here is Dan Reynolds, writing Indian newspaper search, part two, with an example followed by

Sadly, there was also some of this typographic nonsense.1 Note the “45″ to the right.

Now, I agree that these “exotic” letters can be annoying when used unnecessarily. As Maddox says,

Hey Forster, you know why we don’t need ethnic-looking fonts to illustrate the fact that we’re in another country? Because letters placed in close proximity to each other spell words that represent the names of those countries. That, and the obvious change in scenery. […] Even my [mom] knows that using fancy fonts makes her a lameass.

But I’m inclined to cheer them for being clever and playful. As this article by Paul Shaw (thanks to Priya) says,

stereotypes, though crude, serve a commercial purpose. […] There is no room for cultural nuance or academic accuracy in a shop’s fascia. Restaurant owners want passersby (often in cars rather than on foot) to know immediately that they serve Chinese (or Greek, or Jewish) food, and a lettering style that achieves this is welcome.

1: Speaking of typographic nonsense, here’s an example: “K alphabet”. (Found via here.) There are a lot of disturbing things about it, but what really annoys me is people saying “alphabet” when they mean a single letter!

Written by S

Wed, 2008-05-28 at 08:49:24

Posted in language

Tagged with

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. You might also be interested in this article by Jessica Helfand about faux Hebrew typefaces: Why Is This Font Different From All Other Fonts?


    Wed, 2008-05-28 at 15:42:12

  2. Thanks! That article (and the “Neuland question” it mentions) are illuminating…


    Wed, 2008-05-28 at 16:17:09

  3. Thanks for linking me. (Sorry it took so long for me to notice.) I was so proud of that “Umrao Jaan without its rekha” joke – glad you noticed. :D


    Wed, 2008-07-09 at 19:04:25

  4. It was so good that I had to steal it for the title :D

    You’re welcome, and thanks for the post.


    Thu, 2008-07-10 at 01:51:11

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.