Special Letters Unit

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Once again, my visit to the gym coincided with the screening of Sesame Street. I really didn’t feel like going, but I was richly rewarded for my choice of the treadmill over a few more minutes of the crossword and another cup of coffee because Special Letters Unit: The Missing M was screening. This Law and Order: SVU spoof is impressive in its attention to detail, from the alphabet-themed intro and scene-punctuating chung chungs, to the mugshot of the Letter M complete with height scale. While all the characters are readily identifiable, the depiction of Munch is nothing short of brilliant.

Pop-ups

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There are many types of pop-up books, but however simple or complex, what they have in common is a three-dimensional aspect when they are opened. This book, which I made for the Sydney BAG exhibition to complement my Alphabet 1 print, is the simplest type of concertina pop-up. Each page has just two horizontal cuts in the paper, allowing part of the paper to fold one way, part of the paper to fold the other way—resulting in the formation of a moveable parallelogram. This book opens to more than 2.5 metres long, and folds up to less than 50 mm deep.

The letter E

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The letter E is the fifth letter and second vowel in the Latin alphabet, and is by far the most commonly used letter, not only in English, but in many other languages, including French, German, Spanish, Czech, Danish and Norwegian. Over time, the direction of reading E has changed. The Phoenician letter HE represented a man with arms raised to the sky. The Etruscans turned it anticlockwise so the stem was on the right, then it was turned again to become the present-day E, with the stem on the left. E represents about fifteen sounds (here, there, everywhere and more!) and has many symbolic meanings—Energy, East, Ecstasy, electron, a musical note, and more recently, e for electronic.

The letter D

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In English, the letter D is the fourth letter and third consonant of the alphabet. D represents a voiced alveolar stop, which means it is sounded when the tongue is placed at the alveolar ridge (the roof of your mouth behind your teeth) and the tongue is pushed off with sound from the vocal cords. D’s origins can be traced to the Phoenician dalet, meaning door. The letter D is a musical note, has a value of 500 in roman numerals, and in typography, can be as heavy and imposing as Blackoak or as delicate and elegant as Gotham Thin, plus everything else in between.

The letter C

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In English, the letter C is the third letter and second consonant of the alphabet. It has many sounds: city, camera, choir, champagne, ocean, chihuahua, delicacy, delicious, acquit, indict. In music, C is the first note of the fixed do solfège scale. In the scientific world it is carbon and also velocity (from the Latin celeritas). A C with a comma underneath is a cedilla, and a c inside a circle is the copyright symbol. In typography the letter C comes in many shapes and weights. The curve of the letter generally extends slightly above x-height and slightly below the baseline to achieve optical alignment.

The letter B

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B is the second letter and first consonant of our alphabet. Upper case B consists of two bowls, one on top of the other, adjoining a stem on the left. Lower case b has one bowl. Depending on the style, the bowls can be the same size, or the top bowl can be smaller. Historically it is thought that the capital letter B began as a pictogram of the floorplan of a house. B symbolises the voiced bilabial stop, a sound basic to human speech. But poor old B, always second best: B-rated, B-list, B-movie and Plan B, where B doesn’t stand for anything other than a shortfall of A. In the world of science and technology beta is second place. However B vitamins and the musical note B are certainly not second-rate, and when B is used for the abbreviation of bachelor, it comes before the A (of arts)!

The letter A

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The letter A is the first letter of most modern alphabets, and in English is the third most commonly used letter (after E and T). Our modern A evolved from the pictogram of an ox which became the Phoenician letter aleph which became the Greek alpha. A represents many things: a musical note, number one, first rate, top service, the first and best. In typography the lower case a can be drawn in the open form or the closed form. Most typefaces use the open a, but some, such as Futura, Lubalin Graph and Stone Informal, use the closed a. Many typefaces retain the open form across all the weights (Helvetica, Gotham), but many others, including Garamond, Minion, Sabon, Gill Sans and Lucida, to name but a few, use the open form in the roman weights and the closed form in the italic.