October 15, 2011

Pajama Musings - Gothic handwriting

If there is one thing I do not appreciate when reading old books it's when they are in Gothic handwriting (also known as "Blackletter" or "running hand"). It might look pretty, I'll grant you that, but I never got the hang of seeing a difference between certain letters. While my grandparents still learned to write this way in school the only time I came across it was through finding old books in their possession that flashed this, at first look, rather incomprehensible print. Of course your reading will speed up a bit the longer you read aka you finally get used to the strange fonts and develop a talent for deciphering certain words, but thankfully new editions of old books will be in our classic "normal" typeset.

Interestingly enough the Gothic handwriting style was in use in Western and Central Europe as well as in the Nordic countries up to the 17th century, yet it continued to be used for the German language until the 20th century. Here's were my grandparents and their old books come in! Just thought I mention this, before anyone claims I can't possibly be old enough to have grandparents who actually knew this script. I mean, hey, that would make me a vampire. And have you ever heard of vegetarian vampires? Didn't think so.

Typical of the Gothic handwriting style were vertical lines and angular forms. Add that the use of capital letters and lower case letters fluctuated. Throw in regional differences and changes over the centuries and I present to you an often indistinct style that was difficult to read. Even back in the good old times!

Why it was still used in Germany until the beginning of the 20th century is beyond me, but one afternoon a long time ago I was so bored and rummaging through my parent's book collection I found two old tomes on regional legends. Sounded great! Then I opened the book and just starred at it for a while. My mom then told me about this type of print and I was brave enough to take the challenge. Admittedly, at first it was tough, but after a while I was pretty good at guessing whether a certain letter was an "F" or an "S" ... not as though the "H" and "T" would have made the guessing game any easier.

And while I'm complaining about this "old" typeset I wonder, with all the kids typing away on computers these days, when will our "normal" hand be considered old news. Maybe we should just give it another century and then we will be like my own grandparents, explaining to the young ones about why the print in our "old books" looks so funny ...

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