Saturday, April 19, 2008

Majuscule ß

It's finally official!

But first, a preamble:

Back in First Year, I decided to take German 101. In that class, we learned the German alphabet, and its different written forms (upper/lower case. ...maybe cursive). One letter was more special than the rest, it was more than a mere letter with a diacritic: it was the eszett (ß). Deceptively similar to the Greek letter Beta, the Eszett a voiceless /s/ sound, and so named for the supposed historical ligature of S + Z (although you have to think in terms of medieval scripts, so it was more like ſ + 3).

"Why isn't there a capital letter version of the eszett?" I clumsily asked.
"Because it would never begin a word, and therefore there's no use for it," answered the professor.
"But what about when you're writing in allcaps...?"
The professor only smiled in response, either appreciative of my intellect, or disguising her contempt of my germanic ignorance.

But the question persisted in my mind. Surely there were renegade typographers who'd design a majuscule ß for billboards or something.

And back to the main story.

Andreas Stötzner, a German typographer, has been lobbying the Unicode Consortium since 2004 for the official use of a majuscule ß. He reasoned that it was important to have such a character especially to distinct between names (WEISS vs WEIß, for example), which would normally be all pigeon-holed into "SS" for all-caps applications like tombstones or telephone directories. People are, after all, rather sensitive about names.

In 2007, Stötzner resubmitted his proposal, this time appealing on typographical/design grounds rather than grammatical reform. And now, as of 4 April 2008, it appears that the unicode block uni1E9E is now reserved for the magical majuscule ß. Success!

Although Stötzner has spent considerable time and thought on the design of such a glyph, it seems that independent typographers will always have their own methods of creating their own majuscule ß. Finally, German comicbook characters will be able to scream without a compromised eszett!

Also, it means I now have a set unicode spot for this majuscule eszett that I was going to end up designing anyway for my pet project typeface. For a draft preview, see below:

(Click on image to go to site for larger resolution)

Endlich, haben wir Großbuchstabes Eszett!

No comments: