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Lost in Transliteration

A Font Book of Squiggles in Tristram Shandy

Laurence Sterne’s serpentine squiggle is an eloquent testament to the limitation of words.  The twisting line represents a stick waving in the air to wordlessly communicate the vagaries of married life, relating a thousand syllogisms’-worth of meaning.

It would seem that even a squiggle isn’t immune to the corruption inherent in transliteration.  Like a curl of smoke, Sterne’s squiggle changes shape as it traverses edition after edition of Tristram Shandy.  We here present a sampling of squiggle incarnations.  The whimsical font names are based upon the publishers or translators in question.

Letona Distressed (Spanish)

Lindo Medium (Dutch)

Corinth Heavy (German)

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J.A. Lopez de Letona, Vida y opiniones del Caballero Tristam Shandy (1985)
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Prager Lindo, Het leven en de gevoelens van den heer Tristram Shandy (1882)
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Lovis Corinth, Das Leben und die Meinungen von Herrn Tristram Shandy (1908)

Peau de Chagrin Heavy (French)

Public Domain Pulp Bold

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Shandy frontispiece from Balzac, La Peau de Chagrin (1831)
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Forgotten Books (2008)

Nimmo Obtuse

Penguin Heavy

Basil Acute

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William P. Nimmo (1882)
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Penguin (1967)
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Basil (1792)

Nimmo & Bain LightOblique

Josipovici Touch Light

Routledge Black

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Nimmo and Bain (1883)
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Gabriel Josipovici, Touch (1996)
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Routledge & Sons (1893)

Penguin Capsized

Sim Manifesto Thin

Ingold Lines Italic

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The novel “conducts an extremely interesting dialogue with silence, continually taking us to the point where language loses its power to communicate and other methods must be employed (by both the author and his characters).  When Uncle Toby’s servant draws a diagram in the sand to declare the joys of bachelorhood . . . we recognize that we have reached the boundaries of language, as does Uncle Toby himself: ‘A thousand of my father’s most subtle syllogisms could not have said more for celibacy.”
—Stuart Sim, Manifesto For Silence (2007)
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“Like any other gesture, the Corporal’s flourish embodies a certain duration.  The line to which it gives rise is, therefore, intrinsically dynamic and temporal.  When, pen in hand, Sterne recreated the flourish on the page, his gesture left an enduring trace that we can still read.”
—Tim Ingold, Lines: A Brief History (1899)
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Penguin (date unknown)

Temple Classics Medium

Chidley Sans

Wyeth Oblique

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Temple Classics Edition (1899)
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J.J. Chidley (1847)
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John Wyeth (1804)


Jenson Society Bold

Common Sky Medium

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Jenson Society (1904)
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“The reader who wishes to try the gesture should begin at the lower end.”
—Anthony David Nuttall, A Common Sky: Philosophy and the Literary Imagination (1974)

Copyright © 2020 Craig Conley