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The Language Of Printing

August 2, 2023
by the gentle author

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Charles Pertwee of Baddeley Brothers, the longest established engravers in the City of London & the East End, lent me his copy of John Southward’s ‘Dictionary of Typography’ from 1875, which lists all the relevant terminology. And I have selected some of my favourite entries – as much for their arcane poetry as for the education of my readers.



ABRIDGEMENT – An epitome of a book, made by omitting the less important matter.

ADVERSARIA – Commonplace books: a miscellaneous collection of notes remarks and extracts.

APPRENTICE – An apprentice is a person described in law books as a species of servant, and so called from the French verb apprendre – to learn – because he is bound by indenture to serve a master for a certain term, receiving in return for his services instruction in his masters’s trade, profession or art.

BASTARD TITLE –  The short or condensed title preceding full title of the work.

BATTER – Any injury to the face of the type sufficient to prevent it showing clearly in printing.

BEARD OF A LETTER – The outer-angle of the square shoulder of the shank, which reaches almost to the face of the letter, and is commonly scraped off by the Founders, serving to leave a white square between the lower face of the type and the top part of any ascending letter which happen to come in the line following.

BIENVENUE – An obsolete term by which was meant formerly the fee paid on admittance to a ‘Chapel.’

BODKIN – A pointing steel instrument used in correcting, to pick wrong or imperfect letters out of a page.

BOTCHED – Carelessly or badly-done work.

BOTTLE-ARSED – Type that is wider at the bottom than the top.

BOTTLE-NECKED – Type that is thicker at the top than the bottom.

CANDLESTICK – In former times, when Compositors worked at night by the light of candles, they used a candlestick loaded at the base to keep it steady. A few offices use candlesticks at the present day.

CASSIE-PAPER – Imperfect paper, the outside quires of a ream.

CHAFF – Too frequently heard in the printing office, when one Compositor teases another, as regards his work, habits, disposition etc

CHOKED – Type filled up with dirt.

COVENTRY – When a workman does not conform to the rules of the ‘Chapel,’ he is sent to Coventry. That is, on no consideration, is any person allowed to speak with him, apart from business matters, until he pays his dues.

DEAD HORSE – When a Compositor has drawn more money on account than he has actually earned, he is said to be ‘horsing it’ and until he has done enough work in the next week to cover the amount withdrawn, he is said to be working a ‘dead horse.’

DEVIL – is the term applied to the printer’s boy who does the drudgery work of a print office.

DONKEY – Compositors were at one period thus styled by Pressmen in retaliation for being called pigs by them.

EIGHTEENMO – A sheet of paper folded into eighteen leaves, making thirty-six pages.

FAT-FACE LETTER – Letter with a broad face and thick stem.

FLOOR PIE – Type that has been dropped upon the floor during the operations of composition or distribution.

FLY – The man or boy who takes off the sheet from the tympan as the Pressman turns it up.

FORTY-EIGHTMO – A sheet of paper folded into forty-eight leaves or ninety-six pages.

FUDGE – To execute work without the proper materials, or finish it in a bungling or unworkmanlike manner.

GOOD COLOUR – When a sheet is printed neither too dark or too light.

GULL – To tear the point holes in a sheet of paper while printing.

HELL – The place where the broken and battered type goes to.

JERRY – A peculiar noise rendered by Compositors and Pressmen when one of their companions renders themselves ridiculous in any way.

LAYING-ON-BOY – The boy who feeds the sheets into the machine.

LEAN-FACE – A letter of slender proportions, compared with its height.

LIGHT-FACES – Varieties of face in which the lines are unusually thin.

LUG – When the roller adheres closely to the inking table and the type, through its being green and soft, it is said to ‘lug.’

MACKLE – An imperfection in the printed sheets, part of the impression appears double.

MONK – A botch of ink on a printed sheet, arising from insufficient distribution of the ink over the rollers.

MULLER – A sort of pestle, used for spreading ink on the ink table.

NEWS-HOUSE – A printing office in which newspapers only are printed. This term is used to distinguish from book and job houses.

OCTAVO – A sheet of paper folded so as to make eight leaves or sixteen pages.

ON ITS FEET – When a letter stands perfectly upright, it is said to be ‘on its feet.’

PEEL – A wooden instrument shaped like a letter ‘T’ used for hanging up sheets on the poles.

PENNY-A-LINER – A reporter for the Press who is not engaged on the staff, but sends in his matter upon approbation.

PIE – A mass of letters disarranged and in confusion.

PIG – A Pressman was formerly called so by Compositors.

PIGEON HOLES – Unusually wide spaces between words, caused by the carelessness or want of taste of the workman.

PRESS GOES EASY – When the run of the press is light and the pull is easy.

QUIRE – A quire of paper for all usual purposes consists of twenty-four sheets.

RAT-HOUSE – A printing office where the rules of the printers’ trade unions are not conformed to.

SCORPERS – Instruments used by Engravers to clear away the larger portions of wood not drawn upon.

SHEEP’S FOOT – An iron hammer with a claw end, used by Pressmen.

‘SHIP – A colloquial abbreviation of companionship.

SHOE – An old slipper is hung at the end of the frame so that the Compositor, when he comes across a broken or battered letter, may put it there.

SLUG – An American name for what we call a ‘clump.’

SQUABBLE – Lines of matter twisted out of their proper positions with letters running into wrong lines etc.

STIGMATYPY –  Printing with points, the arrangement of points of various thicknesses to create a picture.

WAYZGOOSE – An annual festivity celebrated in most large offices.


You may also like to read about

William Caslon, Letter Founder

At the Caslon Foundry

3 Responses leave one →
  1. August 2, 2023

    Lovely to read these printing terms, some of which are familiar to me. My partner and I (but mainly him) print small booklets for fun. I suppose you could say I am his printer’s devil, and we love a good wayzgoose 🙂

  2. Baden Smith permalink
    August 2, 2023

    You might want to throw in Titivillus who, according to Wikipedia, “…was a demon said to work on behalf of Belphegor, Lucifer or Satan to introduce errors into the work of scribes.”

  3. August 2, 2023

    Lovely stuff! You might like to know that the 1875 second edition is available as a print-on-demand paperback from Cambridge University Press:

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