Friday, April 21, 2006

Character study

Did you know that the shapes of the Korean letters, invented by King Sejong in the 14th century (or rather more likely by his royal alphabet makers) are said to be based on the position of the tongue, teeth, glottis, etc. for the sounds in question? I personally have never been able to see the correspondence entirely clearly, but it's a romantic thought. Arts & Letters Daily links to a piece in the Telegraph that offers some food for thought. And I forgot where I got this link, but Peter Cho's Takeluma is a project for a "sound symbolic, phonetic alphabet" that suggests smoke from moving cigarettes merged with Gregg shorthand.

While we're at the building block level: Dizzyhead Paul alerted me to the appearance of Harry Stephen Keeler Society head honcho Richard Polt on NPR. Richard's other big obsession is antique typewriters—check out his beautiful, informative page.

A few weeks back, when Richard told me he'd been interviewed for NPR on the subject, I asked him for the dope on where his two obsessions intersected—to wit, what sort of typewriter our man HSK used. He replied:

It was an early L.C. Smith (1910 or so), with carriage
return lever on the right. I believe he got it in his early short-story
days, and kept it all his life. I wonder what became of it; that would
be the ultimate find for me! As a substitute, I have a similar L.C.
Smith of my own.

A couple days later, I came across this passage in Keeler's The Riddle of the Traveling Skull, in which our hero analyzes the letter quality of a certain poetic manuscript:

I found, with little or no trouble, barbs missing on the righthand side of all the capital I's; the small l's all broken across their middles;the loops of all the b's filled up with ink; and the 'o' and the 'u' invariably touching—almost interlinking—whenever the latter directly followed the former. That particular characteristic, I knew, indicated a pure idiosyncrasy of type-touch upon a machine like the L.C. Smith.


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