Sunday, January 11, 2009
Blast in to the past
“Language is the archives of history”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
People in the newspaper industry may be predisposed to care more about language and usage than the average Joe or Jane.
I consider myself one of those people — particularly as it pertains to obscure language.
Some of our ink-stained terminology of yesteryear and historic industry jargon is in danger of being lost forever because we have abandoned many of the processes from which it spawned.
As a personal contribution to historic preservation efforts, I feel it is my duty as an aging veteran of hot type production and photochemical typesetting to pass on some of my favorite slang and jargon.
To that end, the following obscure terms and definitions offer a glimpse into the strange, twisted world of mid-20th century backshops and printer dens of my misspent youth.
From the hot type pressroom:
Form — Type matter of a page or several pages ready for the press.
Chase or Turtle — Steel frame in which a form is made up.
Printers furniture — Any piece of metal or wood used to make up a form.
Wrong-face — Type of a different font than is desired.
Dirty case — Type matter in which wrong-face letters appear.
Pi — Tangled mess of type.
Hell box — Receptacle for type and furniture that is to be melted up.
Quoin — Metal wedge used to lock up type in a form.
Stickful — Amount of type, about 2 inches, that can be set in a composing stick used in hand composition.
Leads — Metal strips, 2 points thick, used for spacing between lines of type.
Heel nick — “Feet” attached to the base of handset type that allows a typesetter, by feeling, to find the type’s bottom.
From the newsroom:
Boiled story — A rewrite of a longer story condensed to fit later editions.
Local room — The part of the newsroom devoted to gathering and writing news of the city in which the paper is published (now often called the city room).
Telegraph room — The part of the newsroom devoted to gathering and writing news from other areas of the state, nation or world (now called the wire room).
Fudge edition or plate — A printing method that uses a different roller on the press to print extra editions that contain late-breaking news, final scores or stock market statistics.
Ready prints or patent insides — A cost-savings method in which publishers or editors acquired from syndicates newsprint that already had one side of each sheet filled with feature articles and general material. Local news was printed on the blank side.
Widows and orphans — A widow is when a paragraph ends on the first line at the top of a page or column, leaving perhaps only a single word or syllable. An orphan refers to a paragraph beginning at the last line of a page or column.
Butcher — A copy editor lacking skill.
Bulldog — The early edition of the newspaper.
From headline writers:
Decks — The several parts or layers of a headline.
Banks — Less prominent decks between display decks.
Crossline — One-line headline across a column.
Dropline — Deck of several lines, italicized.
From graphics and photo desk:
Wood cuts — Pictures laboriously carved by hand in hardwood blocks; until the 1880s these were the only illustrations available for newspaper use.
Half-tone — Blackness of an impression, broken into contrasting tones by use of fine dots created through a screening in the photo process.
Ben Day process — Named after a New York printer, this is a printing method that imitates half-tone work in the background of line etchings by means of a special film that creates a stippled effect.
Mortises — Holes cut through plates for inserting type or smaller cuts.
Names for various type sizes:
Microscopique — 2.5-point type
Excelsior — 3-point type
Agate — 5.5-point type
Brevier — 8-point type
Bourgeois — 9-point type
Long Primer — 10-point type
Small Pica — 11-point type
Pica — 12-point type
English — 14-point type
Paragon — 20-point type
Canon — 48-point type
Phototypesetting composing rooms:
Hot board — Used to dry photo paper.
Ticker tape — Pulled off the wire feed and fed into a phototypesetter for Associated Press and United Press International stories.
Wheel — A typesetting device upon which flexible film-like strips of type were placed. The wheel would spin into position to highlight a selected letter. Light beamed through the film-like material to burn the letter on photosensitive paper.
Multirule — A slide rule-like tool used to measure type used in copy and headlines.