What in the trifocals does the fine print say?

What in the trifocals does the fine print say? by Bob Karolevitz What the big type promises, the small print taketh away.

That�s a truism I learned a long time ago. If the words behind the asterisk are almost too tiny to see, I get mighty suspicious.

It makes me think that the advertiser is trying to pull some kind of funny stuff. Does he have something he�s trying to hide?

I say if it�s worth printing at all, it should be big enough to read without a magnifying glass.

They do it on television, too. The qualifiers are so small and are whisked by so fast that it�s impossible to know what�s been said.

�What was that?� I ask Phyllis. And she doesn�t know either. Neither of us was fast enough to catch it.

I want an instant replay so I can read it, but that only happens in football. I guess we�re not supposed to comprehend what�s in the teensy-weentsy type. The message goes by lickety-split. In a twinkling, so to speak.

We sign bank documents, insurance forms and credit card applications without taking the time to digest the almost illegible paragraphs which mostly favor the other guy. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that the attorneys know what the words say if they ever have to use them against us.

On the other hand, if you have to squint to find out what the small type means, you probably don�t want to know it.

For instance, take the instruction sheet which follows a glowing advertisement for a popular drug. Almost too dinky to make out is the recommendation to �Please read this summary carefully.� Then comes a whole pageful of 3 1/2-point unreadable sans serif type which tells about adverse reactions, the studies with male and female rats and a warning as to how it will affect you if you�re pregnant or if you are 75 or older.

Well, I�m not pregnant nor do I care what the rat studies show. I�m past 75 all right, and I tend to mis-focus with my trifocals now and then, but they don�t have to make it any harder for me by reducing the reading matter to Lilliputian size.

As an example, we�ve got several small tubes of ointment we�d like to use, but we don�t know if they are for us or for the dog. The labels are microscopic.

Years ago I did a legibility study which concluded that roman type (the kind that you are reading here) was easier on the eyes and more comprehensible than the straight up-and-down style which we printers call sans-serif. To make matters even worse, the modern page designers seem to insist on using the harder-to-read type along with their itsy-bitsy letters.

Apparently the law requires that disclaimers on certain advertisements must be asterisked � even if you can hardly see them. It�s a protection device for the space-buyers, that�s all. John Q. Public no doubt isn�t supposed to know what�s in the small print.

While I�m venting my spleen, I might just as well include my disdain for most footnotes.

They�re usually big enough to read, but they disrupt the flow of a book for me. I especially don�t like them bulked together at the end of a chapter. You practically have to wear out the pages going back and forth to match up the notes with the little numbers.

Oh, I suppose footnotes are okay. They pin things down for the researchers and help authors avoid plagiarism. Mostly, though, they allow academicians to use Ibed. and Loc. cit. to show how much they know.

I guess I just like my printed word to be as uncomplicated as possible. I don�t need footnotes and tiny type to add to my other frustration.

I move my lips when I read, in case you wanted to know.

� 2002 Robert F. Karolevitz

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