Mind the line

Line breaks are an interesting but little-discussed aspect of typography. That’s a shame, because they can matter, especially in signage.

Book covers are another place where line breaks can matter. I’m especially concerned with those because I’m involved in a company that publishes books about Taiwan, China, and other places in East Asia. I wish I could take credit for Camphor Press’s book covers; alas, though, I have no talent in that area.

Here’s a good example of a line break making a difference in a sign. This ends up being not unlike a typographical crash blossom. I took this photo last week at a Costco in metropolitan Taipei.

sign in a Costco seafood section that reads 'HOKKAIDO COOKED HAIR [line break] CRAB'

For those who are curious, NT$987 is about US$29.60.

Anyway, here’s the Mandarin text:
Běihǎidào shú dòng máoxiè (lěngdòng)

(I don’t know what that first “dòng” is doing there, given that this ends with “lěngdòng.”)

For maoxie, the ABC Chinese-English Dictionary gives “small crab; baby crab.” But I’m not sure that’s quite right.

If the translator had gone with the more common form of “hairy crab” instead of “hair crab,” the adjective would have alerted readers that they needed to keep going. On the other hand, use of another common translation, “mitten crab,” wouldn’t have helped much, though I suppose that


is slightly more palatable sounding than


And at least they didn’t use the sometimes seen translation of “hair crabs,” which could conjure up altogether the wrong image.

2 thoughts on “Mind the line

  1. “Mind the line
    Posted on Saturday, March 5, 2016
    Line breaks are an interesting but little-discussed aspect of typography.”

    I quite agree! My late father used to enjoy telling the (apocryphal, as it turns out; I haven’t been able to verify it) story of the headlines of a major Washington, D.C. newspaper soon after the the death of the then Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Harlan Fiske Stone, in 1946. As my father used to tell it, the top line of the headline in very large letters said, “CHIEF JUSTICE” and the second line, which was the bottom line of the headline, also in as large letters, said, “STONE DEAD”. One familiar with the “stone dead” idiomatic expression seeing that would likely have given it a doubletake.

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