Error and Material Publication Form

To return to a topic like counting characters in Gettysburg address and Joshua Bell at the metro, consider whether the type face in which an article is set can be an error. This post is a web-enhanced version of a comment submitted to the SHARP listserv.

In the web version of an article on the Helvetica type face in the Toronto Star, the author refers to the “fancy little dangly bits.” The serifs, which are drawn to the reader’s attention to distinguish the newspaper’s printed typeface (TorStarTextRoman) from Helvetica, won’t be found. Click thumbnail below to view a screen shot of the paragraph:

Screen Shot of Paragraph in “Official Typeface…”

Toronto Star Article, “The official typeface of the 20th century”

In the HTML code, the call for type face is passed off to a style sheet in a separate file. This style sheet (invisible to end users, I think) presumably calls for the default sans-serif font. On my Windows machine with Internet Explorer or Firefox browser, the default sans-serif font is Microsoft’s Verdana typeface. According to Wikipedia article, Verdana is available on over 90 percent of Windows and Macintosh computers.

So, for this reader and for most readers of the web version, Verdana is not TorStarTextRoman is not Helvetica.

If no character is changed, is it an error if it is displayed in an alternate type face? It illuminates Jerome McGann’s contention that texts are “self-generating feedback systems.” When the publication form is incapable of generating the feedback that the author at least seemed to intend, something is lost. Whether the concept of “error” usefully describes it is another matter.

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