In A Word.

POLONIUS: What do you read, my lord?

HAMLET: Words, words, words.


Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

graffiti1Because I don’t do graphic design and have no clue what kerning is (or at least didn’t until I stopped typing this sentence and went and looked it up) I often take letters for granted. And that may seem strange given that words are my medium, but most of the time I just stick with the Times New Roman font or whatever the default is and don’t think about changing it unless I want to use italics for emphasis or bold to make something really stand out. Occasionally if I’m adding a caption to a picture I might look for a funny font but mostly I’m just lazy and use the default.

And this is true most of the time when I’m reading. I read the words but I don’t think about the design of the font, unless I happen to flip to the back and it’s a book with one of those little notes. “This book is typeset in Whillickers, a 12th century Belgian font designed by an amateur cowl maker.” If you say so. Looks like Times New Roman to me.

It even seems more than a little odd to me that there’s some controversy over U.S. highway signs which switched to a more legible font called Clearview in 2004 but is now switching back to one called Highway Gothic. They don’t look that different to me, except for some kerning, but Clearview is expensive while Highway Gothic is free.

Anyway when I look at graffiti, or any art that turns abstract language into something visual–think Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture–I do notice the font because it’s not just the word. It’s also how it’s designed.

That’s what I like about this particular work. It makes me think about how printed language has two ways of conveying meaning: what it says is tied to how it looks. And as a bonus there’s a sense of menace.


Seen any graffiti? Send your pictures to Full credit will be given or you can remain anonymous. I’m easy.

Facebook Comments


  1. Ann Koplow

    Three words: Thank you, Chris.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      These are some of the sweetest words I could read.

  2. M. Firpi

    This type of lettering was in style when I was a kid. (I can’t tell whether they are letters from here), but this type of wording design was supposed to be “cool” when I was a teenager. I have noticed them in the graffiti here so apparently it’s universal. I think it’s a “gang” habit, or some form of vocabulary each gang uses to communicate to the other about who they are, or that they were there first. It’s like an “underground” signature, although it’s visible to everyone.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yes, I’ve noticed quite a bit of graffiti using “bubble” lettering. I’m never quite sure if there’s a reason for that beyond impact and taking up more space. It’s very rare that I see it filled in, but I guess most artists don’t have the time to stop and do that. What I think are gang signs are more often just single line scrawls, maybe fairly elaborate, but not usually done with the same level of artistry.
      One of these days I hope I’ll get to meet up with somebody doing this graffiti and bombard them with questions about their aesthetic choices.

      1. M. Firpi

        Be careful, because this is gang behavior. This type of activity does not exist in countries like Switzerland, Norway, or Sweden, countries with higher standards of living and very low poverty rates. Socialized medicine and education are so important for healthy youths, and the U.S. is still toiling with those two. I wish the U.S. would have free education and medicine for all, because the European countries I mentioned are way ahead of the Americans in these areas.

  3. Sandra

    Your mind works in a weird wonderful way.. am now googling kerning.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      If you’re like me you were surprised to learn what kerning is. I thought it had something to do with serifs or edges. Maybe that’s because it sounds so close to “kernel”.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge