Saturday, October 7, 2017

Still Life with Robin: Block That Papyrus!

Image by
by Peggy Robin

If you are have been reading the Cleveland Park Listserv for any length of time, you will be aware of its poverty of fonts. If you receive in “daily digest” format (the last 15 messages received in one long email from Yahoogroups), you get the whole thing in just one font -- always the same stripped-down sans serif font each time, without any effects whatsoever – no italics, no boldfacing, no highlighting, no emojis 😏.... Nada (and that’s not even a font name). If you get individual messages you are getting your messages converted into whatever your email program has as its default font – unless there’s something in your email system that doesn’t mesh with the Yahoogroups system, in which case you may sometimes receive a garble of strange symbols. (The most often happens when there's an apostrophe in the subject line, which for some reason, does not come across correctly for most recipients.) This is because the Yahoogroups system is so ancient and decrepit, and the various attempts to upgrade it over the years have been so poorly executed, that it’s still stuck with the font limitations of a bygone era.

I often write to would-be posters to let them know that they have sent in a message to the listserv in a font that the system does not recognize and cannot process correctly – and so it appears as a blank box in the “pending messages” folder. I used to think that the extremely small number of compatible fonts was an unfortunate limitation on our posters, but just recently I was struck with the realization that it’s actually a blessing. And that blessing is….no one can post a notice in a really stupid, childish, or hideous font.

What are the fonts that merit these descriptors?

It’s easy to find typographers’ lists of the “10 Most Hated Fonts” – here’s just one example -- but the lists seldom agree on even five out of the ten. Still, certain trends emerge: Comic Sans will most often occupy the number one spot. Papyrus is usually there, along with Brush Script. Some ungainly variant of Helvetica, like Gill Sans, may be on the list (while Helvetica itself is almost always near the top of a “10 Best Fonts” list).

What made me aware that the CP Listserv’s dearth of fonts is actually a virtue, not a flaw? It was this sketch on Saturday Night Live last weekend (9/30/17) – something I instantly recognized as the single best non-political font-based comedy in the show’s 42-season history:


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.


  1. Brilliant, Peggy!

  2. Thanks! I thought I'd get cute and reply in Papyrus, followed by Brush Script, and Comic Sans, but this blog platform does offer any of those fonts...and I think I'm grateful for that!