The frugal typographer

Annals of silliness: from the Medford [Oregon] Daily News, June 23, 1929, a story about one man’s quest to save space by replacing the word the by a single symbol:

Note the wry conclusion to the jocular piece:

Its general use should prove a great boon to newspapers, facilitating composition and reserving space now given over to “the’s” for more comic strips and letters to the editor.

Maybe Mason was just an eccentric whose ideas never caught on. Or maybe Mason was the invention of a mischievous journalist; notice that we hear nothing about Mason except for his campaign to replace the.

(Hat tip to Ben Truwe, who operated the Medford typography firm ProType for 22 years. The image of the newspaper page is the one he sent me; I understand that it’s not easy to read, even when you click on it to embiggen it.)

(I’m not experienced in dealing with newspaper archives and haven’t been able to find this story, datelined New York, in any other publication.)

9 Responses to “The frugal typographer”

  1. H. S. Gudnason Says:

    I was amused by the reference to “ye editors” in the fourth paragraph; I’d initially assumed that that would be Mason’s discovery, rather than the Þ.

    And, as you’ve pointed out, Bill Griffith is saving even more space for even more comic strips with his use of “th'” Þroughot Zippy.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Lovely. I was going to mention Griffith, but then I realized that his th’ is still three characters, so the only saving is in the width of the apostrophe vs. the letter e. Griffith’s spelling is phonetically, not orthographically, motivated.

  3. kd6ttl Says:

    Did it somehow get left out of Unicode?

    I suppose it’s less commonly used than Klingon, which isn’t in Unicode either.

  4. jacrippen Says:

    I actually use þ in my handwritten notes for ‘the’, along with ꝥ for ‘that’ and þs for ‘this’. I picked it up from studying palaeographic abbreviations in manuscripts, and that from learning calligraphy. Most of the old tachygraphic abbreviations are for Latin, but there are a few that are suitable for English which I adapted for my own use. But I wouldn’t seriously recommend using þ in printed materials, given that the cost of printing nowadays is so minuscule.

  5. Benjamin Lukoff (@lukobe) Says:

    I had no idea “hyphenated Americans” was in use in 1929 (and, presumably, 1917). Always thought this was a much more recent coinage.

    “The world war erupted with the unexpectedness of an earthquake. There was talk of ‘hyphenated Americans.’ Mason was not interested in hyphens.”

  6. Arne Adolfsen Says:

    Oh, so his big discovery was þ. For some reason I imagined he did something fun to ð.

  7. Thorny days « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Old English letter þ (known as thorn) played a central role in my posting on a “frugal typographer” who proposed in 1929 to save space by replacing the word the […]

  8. Michael Patrick Williams Says:

    What a great piece of typographical para-history!

    I was linked to this meta-article by a kindly bookhound on AbeBooks’ BookSleuth® forum.

    I am seeking a book about the exact same topic: the author proposes creating a new symbol for the word “the”. The book itself is a paperback, with an unadorned plain cover. It seemed more like a pamphlet than a “published” work, maybe from the 60s-80s? The title may actually include his new typographical symbol for “the”. I have not been able to identify Mason as the author of this book.

    Perhaps if any bibliophiles are lurking they could have a few suggestions?

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