It was the Spring of 2010. I was poised to graduate from college, but one thing stood in my way: Creative Writing 250. You see, even though I was on track to get a Bachelor of Science, I still had to complete several “general education” courses to round me out as an academic.
Your jokes and quips are words unzipped.
The knives you use to axe my heart in two.
The lavender-scented love from mom to you.
You guessed, it’s the alphabet you lipped.
I was proud of that poem, because I used a clever little trick; more than just a play on words, a play on letters. What does my poem have to do with fonts?
Dwarf mobs quiz lynx.jpg, kvetch!
Go on, take a closer look.
This is a perfectly valid English sentence, which can roughly be rephrased to say that crowds of midgets question a picture of a wildcat, then complain.
Why is it so special? It’s called a pangram, which is a sentence that uses every letter in the alphabet at least once. But this one is a perfect pangram because it uses every letter exactly once! Neat!
They’re not limited to the English language either. This (imperfect) pangram is in Portuguese:
Zebras caolhas de Java querem passar fax para moças gigantes de New York.
— One-eyed zebras from Java want to fax for giant ladies from New York.
Let me explain.
Pangrams are useful for more than hilarious non sequiturs. You’re probably more familiar with these other pangrams:
Grumpy wizards make toxic brew for the evil Queen and Jack.
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
These sentences serve to demonstrate what a font looks like. It’s like trying on a pair of pants in the fitting room to make sure you don’t have weird butt in them.
But I’m not here to talk about buttocks, crowds of midgets, grumpy wizards, or agile auburn weasels.
My pangramic poetry from earlier not only contains all of the letters in the alphabet, but the subject itself is the alphabet: particular constructions of letters can make you laugh, make you cry, and make you warm and fuzzy inside. Similarly, fonts are an extension of our power of vocabulary. When used effectively, web fonts tell just as much of the story as the words themselves.
Consider that, next time you think about taking Helvetica out for a walk.