Pied Type

March, 1997

Some time ago, on some mail list or other, somebody used the phrase "pied type," and somebody else replied

"pied"? Is that an expression I am unfamiliar with or a typo?

Another correspondent clarified with

It's an old newspaper term for when the lines of type get juggled up or the galleys get stuck together in the wrong order.

Now, as part of the Publishing and Printing minor I earned in college, I had to spend some time printing a few things with lead type. This is the classic, not-too-far-removed-from-Gutenberg process of picking bits of metal with backwards letters on them, setting them in rows, locking them together, inking them, and smooshing paper onto them to print things. One of the terms we learned in this class was, in fact, "pied type." Thus, I didn't think it was particularly obscure. So I also decided to post a response. I started out with

It's older than that. It started with setting type one letter at a time. If you dropped the galley or bumped it, basically you had alphabet soup. Pied type is just so much less of a big deal when each line of type is a single object. :)

However, even way back in 1997, I'd already learned that anytime one is inclined to make a declaration about The Meaning of [anything], one is well advised to find some kind of reference to back you up. So the rest of this essay is the results of my attempt to find some kind of authoritative source for a defintion for the term "pied type." One thing to keep in mind: this is 1997; Google hadn't been invented yet. Leading search engines included HotBot, Lycos, Yahoo, and my personal favorite at the time, AltaVista.

[checking my dictionary]

Piebald: esp. black and white, but not wrong for other colors.

Pied Piper of Hamelin: written 1842.

I really doubt this the Pied Piper of Hamelin as an origination of "pied type". A pied piper would be one wearing two colors in spots or blotches. Alas, no entry for type. OK, then. Let's check my "Thames and Hudson Manual of Typography." Nothing. "Elements of Typographic Style"? Nothing! Sheesh! "Chicago Manual of Style" Nothing! Yikes!

[surfing: Yahoo]

Hey! There's an on-line rhyming dictionary! . . .

[more surfing]

Webster's, nope. Merriam-Webster, nope. Wordz, nope.

[surfing: Alta-Vista]

Ooorg. A *lot* of French pages. ("a pied" (ah pee-AY) means 'on foot' in French.)

Hey, a Museum of Printing! . . . No DNS entry, not available. Of course. Drat.


There's a magazine called "Vuepoint" apparently for Ventura [That would be "Ventura Publisher," one of the leading page layout programs of the era. Generally considered second to Quark Express, but not by much.] users that has a column called "Pied Type." I have confirmed the term. Whatever. (Although I'd love to read the April column on the ellipsis.)


When asking for "pied" near "type," I'm not surprised I got some Piper and "something-type" entries. However, getting a page on breeding Budgies (parakeets) was a surprise:

Yellow Face Type I
Yellow Face Type II
Recessive Pied (Harlequin or Danish)
Australian Pied

I foud that at http://www.globaldialog.com/AdventureCentral/

Oooo! I *must* follow the link entitled "A frank talk about bird poop"


[surfing: HotBot]

5400+ matches. Ahem? "Exact Phrase", please.

900. Ahem! I meant "exact phrase." Clearly we disagree on what this means. At least one of these 900 pages doesn't have the word "type" on it.

I guess I didn't click hard enough. Resubmitting the same query got me nothing this time. I guess that's an improvement, in a manner of speaking. Grrrr.

[search Usenet]


HotBot is prettier, and the fact you can exclude european or japanese sites (sort of) is very nice, but AltaVista's "advanced" mode still kicks big booty. None of the other options are worth considering.


Back to AltaVista...


Searching for "type and (definitio* or typography)" rank results by "pied"

Hmm. 900.

"and not (France or French)"


"and not (France or French or française or host:fr)"

300. Hmm. Ah!

"and not (France or French or française or host:fr or è)"

I feel clever.

100. Way better, but still some French.

"and not (é or à or è)"

I wonder if I could do something similar to screen Japanese pages. . .wow, it's thinking really really hard.

98? Hmph. Oops! Closed my browser window.

[opening] [surfing]

"type and not (é or à or è) and (pied or definitio* or terms)"

300 again. Hmmm. Lots of bird entries. add "not bird"

The problem with negative results is you never know if you simply failed to ask the right question. This is worse on the Web, since so often the answer was poorly written, and won't be found by being sensible.

type and not (é or à or è or bird) and (pied or definitio* or terms)

56 results. Perfect.

Oooo. Simon King Press does limited edition books that sound lovely. "Quarter bound with buckram for the standard (£75), and royal blue leather for the special copies (£150 with an extra set of prints, £110 without). The set of lino cuts is available separately (£40). 21pp. 330*230mm." At that price, they'd better be lovely.

This entry with the word "phenology" keeps appearing. I can't stand it, I must know what it's about. . .

"This study is designed to determine the timing of phenological events for plant species at the four core research sites identified on the Sevilleta National Wildlife refuge."

Um, I still don't know. :)

An entry mentioning Doctor Who (and the Pied Piper). . .

Something from a hang gliding mailing list. . .

A page of French "sans accents" Curses.

A page of French jokes.

Good heavens, it's getting weirder by the minute!

A polemic on if conservatives should leave the Republican party. . . (It is huge, and has the <blink> tag. Ick.)

A "Robert A. Heinlein FAQ" Er, what?

A Tours and Activities page that has the "Lust, Crimes and Foolishness tour." Indeed!

Somebody's page of bookmarks that has a link to "The Seattle Area Pipe Organ Scene." We have one? And (aha) a link to "Pied Piper Music"

Here's a page featuring the most recently issued stamps of Bhutan. . .

Well, if a definition of "pied type" is to be found on the Web, it has not been indexed. I feel pretty certain of that. However, that is by far the strangest result set I have ever gotten on an AltaVista search. My eyes are bugging out.

By the way, Bhutanese stamps have a "type," and one of them is of a Pied Kingfisher.

I think I'll visit adobe.com


No 'pied' in tech database.

Maybe Bitstream. . .


Oops. Now I've actually been captured by a site offering free fonts. Really good original ones, too. And he sells some, too.


It's hard to argue with text like:

For instance... I was at the Middle East Bar & Restaurant in Cambridge, MA last December and I ran into Grace Black, a friend from college who I hadn't seen in years. She asked what I was doing for a living and I said "I draw the alphabet."

"That's a funny job," she said.

"It's easy though," I replied. "Why don't you give it a try?" I handed her a napkin, and she drew the alphabet for me. It took her about 30 seconds. Two days leter[sic] I turned that napkin into a font called, oddly enough, "Napkin." Two months later Napkin was licensed for distribution by the Exploding Font Company. And within a year, Napkin was being used by IBM. No shit. IBM.

Pretty crazy, eh?

Fonts are cool. I like making fonts.




As if I have time to collect fonts anymore. Sigh. And isn't 600-700 useful fonts (and something like 6000 total fonts) enough for anybody? Except John Barry?

Well, no, but...

Oh, look! Fonts made from the handwriting of infamous killers! How very . . . well, indeed. Pass.

Man, there are a lot of font foundries and typographers on the web.

Aaaiiiiieee! Monotype has a "Glossary of Typographic Terms" but it's under construction! Arrrrghh. (And you thought I'd forgotten what I was surfing for. :)

[follow link]

Oh, now THIS is amazing...


Some exceedingly clever person has written a charming treatise about type, and it is laid out on a web page with a background that looks like a book. There are little .gif files on the side that add 'finger indents' to the page, just like a dictionary.

Well, it's three hours later, and I still haven't found it. I must give up. What a tangled web, indeed.

A historical footnote. AltaVista's boolean search capabilities, as you might have noticed from the examples, were truly awesome. To the best of my knowledge, there are no search engines today with anything comparable.