The Wug-Plant

September 16, 2016

‘Precious Artifact’ is a short story by Philip K. Dick that I read recently in the collection The Golden Man (Methuen, 1981). I won’t get into the story here, or the book, except to lend context to a phrase he coined for it. But if you’re averse to mild spoilers, skip ahead a little.

The phrase is introduced when the protagonist, based on Mars, is preparing to return to Earth, or Terra as it’s called in the story:

philip-k-dick-golden-man-methuen-book-coverMilt Biskle said, “I want you to do something for me. I feel too tired, too—” He gestured. “Or depressed, maybe. Anyhow I’d like you to make arrangements for my gear, including my wug-plant, to be put aboard a transport returning to Terra.”

Milt’s singling out the wug-plant is significant both narratively (for reasons I’ll ignore) and emotionally: he’s attached to it to the point of calling it a pet. Later, on ‘Terra’, he finds it has not prospered in the new climate (‘my wug-plant isn’t thriving’), and soon afterwards ‘he found his Martian wug-plant dead’.

But wug-plant is most significant linguistically. Those of you with a background or interest in linguistics will know why, but for the benefit of other readers I’ll explain briefly.

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Comic book grammar

July 13, 2011

Here is a very interesting page on comic book grammar and tradition. Written by Nate Piekos, a comic artist, letterer and font designer, it presents a series of ad hoc comic panels with text explaining how to convey particular styles, moods, sounds, and punctuation through speech balloons and related graphic devices. Piekos writes:

Comic book lettering has some grammatical and aesthetic traditions that are unique. . . . The majority of these ideas have been established by [publishers] Marvel and DC, but opinions vary from editor to editor

With 34 panels arranged in alphabetical order, the short supplementary notes cover a wide range of comic book language and expression, for example hyphenation, foreign languages, coughs, music, and telepathic speech.

Piekos explains such details as when to use lowercase, how to convey “off-camera” speech, and in what order to place the marks in an interrobang (!? or ?! – “It’s a loose rule that the question mark should come first”).

Sometimes these conventions shift. Of whispering (see image, reproduced with permission), he says:

Traditionally, whispered dialogue is indicated by a balloon with a dashed stroke. More recently accepted options are a balloon and dialogue in a muted tone (grayed-out), or with a lowercase font in conjunction with small dialogue/big balloon.

While reading comics, I have noticed some typographic patterns but never established whether they were standardised forms, for example the fact that emphasis is normally illustrated by a combination of bold and italics (and sometimes underlines), seldom if ever by either in isolation. I’m glad to have some of these observations and wonderings confirmed, and to have a host of others clearly summarised.

You can see them all here.

Interested readers are also encouraged to visit Gwillim Law’s history of grawlixes (aka obscenicons: taboo words represented by typographic symbols, which I previously linked to here), Ben Zimmer’s related commentaries at Language Log, and Doug Gilford’s Don Martin dictionary of Mad magazine sound effects.


Artful things

September 4, 2009

In some of my spare time I make art. Had I more spare time (or the power of bilocation or biological fission), I would make more art. Lots of all sorts of it. These days, when I can, I mostly create collages or set my colouring pencils loose on a sketchbook, but it would be gratifying to have the luxury of a weekend, a month, or a decade to play around with charcoals, clay, paint, pipe cleaners, and other willing materials. And I’d like to try my hand at stop-motion animation, and stained glass.

Stan Carey - Harry Clarke window

(Window by Harry Clarke, about whom more below.)

These days, though, I am too busy with editing work, volunteer work, writing, and countless other activities, online and off, to afford art more than a few evening hours at a time. No doubt many of you can empathise. The business of a busy world is to become busier in spite of one’s efforts to simplify.

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