When Type Goes Bad

19 Nov 2006
November 19, 2006
Installing Signage at Clyde's Restaurant

Installing signage at Clyde’s Restaurant. We were hopeful.

When the Smithsonian American Art Museum closed for renovations in January 2000 the neighborhood surrounding its building was neglected and deserted (especially when the Federal workforce left for the burbs at the end of the day). What a difference six and a half years made.

Our museum, open since July, is now right in the middle of a vibrant city life with restaurants, shops, and sports events. So rich is the night life that we changed the Smithsonian’s traditional hours from 10–5:30 to a later 11:30–7 to take advantage of the after work crowds.

Over the years my fellow museum workers watched as the area morphed. We documented each store and restaurant opening. And we took our lunch breaks exploring our new metropolitan environs en masse. When Urban Outfitters and Bed, Bath, and Beyond joined a multiplex and a bowling alley just a few doors from each other, we knew we were truly witnessing an urban renaissance.

A few months ago I photographed the workers installing what looked to be beautiful 3-D signage for a local upscale eatery, Clyde’s. But returning a few days later to view its completion I was shocked to discover a huge 3-D typographical faux pas: they had used a tick mark instead of an apostrophe to indicate the possessive!

I was shocked. Truly shocked. In addition, the kerning between the “tick” (also known as a prime symbol) and the “E” before it was excruciatingly close. It was painful to view. Oddly, the type treatment for their new restaurant strayed from their corporate logo (which uses an anatomically-correct apostrophe) used as signage at their other locations.

What went wrong? And who could I commiserate with? Who would understand the depths of my type trauma? So I sought out our museum print designer to tell my tale. She alone, I thought, would understand. And indeed, together we breathed a collective sigh of indignation.

I was so incensed I shot off an email to Clyde’s management:

I have eaten at many of your restaurants and was looking forward to the opening of your new place on 7th Street since I work close by.

I enjoyed watching the beautiful letters of your name being installed a few days ago. However, today when I passed by to view your completed signage I was disappointed to see the apostrophe you used.

In fact, it’s not an apostrophe at all, but rather an inch mark. The type you used to spell out your name is a beautiful serif typeface (and it was great to see each letter in 3-D). The mark you use for the apostrophe is not only incorrect but sits way too close to the E.

Such an elegant sign of for an elegant restaurant ruined by this error.

I will not be eating there until you change it.

I have put my money where my proper punctuation resides. But so far they have not returned my correspondence. And the tick remains (both on their sign and in my heart).

Related Links: Apparently I’m not the only one to defend the apostrophe and point out a few additional typographical mishaps. (Via Kottke) Also, check out The Atrocious Apostrophe photo pool at flickr. I am, indeed, not alone.

7 replies
  1. steve says:

    You should report this at once to Apostrophe Catastrophe!

  2. Ivan Pope says:

    Truly that thing is an abomination. Hard to even look at it.

  3. Jeff says:

    Steve, the appropriate apostrophe blog authorities have been notified. Thanks.
    Ivan, see, I told you so! It actually makes me feel uncomfortable.

  4. Eric Meyer says:

    Wow. That picture hurt me so much that I think I’m tasting metal. And I’m not even a typography geek.

  5. naugahyde says:

    The kerning issue was a shortcut by the sign builder. They did not want to build a separate support for the apostrophe. I’m not sure why they used a tick mark though.

  6. Jeff says:

    Naugahyde, funny you should mention that. I just walked by the sign yesterday and noticed the support for the “tick” is attached to the top of the “E.” I still think they could have made the support a bit longer and put the “tick” at an angle.

  7. ralph says:

    I live in a small town in Iowa that has one movie theater which was probably built in the 50’s. The marquee uses plastic letters to announce the current movies (2 of them). It appears that the management is losing plastic letters (like losing a tile in Scrabble) and beginning to be very creative in their substitutions. For example, the start time of 7:15 was posted as 7:12 using an upside down ‘2’ which sort of looks like a ‘5’. People in this town wouldn’t even notice a tick mark being used instead of an apostrophe!

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