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Tech Talk in the Mainstream Media - Dr Ron's Tittle Trouble

From time to time we hit the mainstream media

May 29 2006
ABC Radio National - Dr Ron's "Tittle Trouble"
Perspective with Sue Clark

You don't know me, but you probably know my type. I consider myself to be a custodian of the English language, that is to say, I become predictably enraged when I see spelling mistakes, examples of poor grammar, or unnecessary or incorrect apostrophes.

The English language is a living, breathing, constantly evolving beast. As exciting as this is for many of us, we must recognise the difference between new words, expressions and ways of communicating, and incorrect grammar bred from laziness, ignorance and stupidity.

Now one such example of laziness, ignorance and stupidity that I've recently noticed is what I like to call "tittle trouble". By way of explanation, the tittle is the small dot that forms part of the lower-case letter i or j. Tittle trouble, then, is the accidental or deliberate omission of this dot.

According to Wikipedia, the internet's free encyclopaedia, (and I do understand, for the most part, that you get what you pay for in this day and age,) the dot above the letters i and j first appeared in Latin manuscripts in the eleventh century. This was to distinguish the i and j from strokes of nearby letters, and although originally a larger mark, it was reduced to a single dot when Roman-style typefaces were introduced.

Now it's important to note that the dot above the letter i and j is not what's called a diacritical mark, which is used to alter a word's pronunciation. The dot is a fundamental part of the letter itself; it cannot be omitted. It is incorrect to say that the dot goes on top of the letter i or j. The dot is part of the letter.

Unfortunately, we are starting to see tittle omission becoming quite common in advertisements, marketing campaigns and corporate logos.

A good example is Citibank in Australia, where the tittles that quite rightly deserve a place in their corporate logo, have been replaced by a bizarre inverted U, over not just the i's but the letter t as well.

Victoria's Police Force suffers from tittle trouble, and is guilty of omitting the tittle from the word 'police' on reflective vests and some uniform items.

The staff at Origin Energy are so concerned with gas and electricity conservation, they haven't noticed that it's lights-out for their tittles.

And there are many other examples in daily life where the tittle has simply appeared to have toppled.

Interestingly, there seems to be an unwritten but universally acknowledged rule when it comes to the corporate letterhead of insurance companies. Having always made money out of hedging their bets one way or another, the likes of ING, AAMI, APIA and Zurich have simply opted for upper-case logos, playing it safe in this tittle-troubled society in which we all live.

I was relieved to find that it wasn't just me that had noticed this phenomenon. In fact, many authors and English teachers have also noticed, and commented on, tittle trouble. For example, Audrey Wood, the author of more than two-dozen children's books, wrote "An Alphabet Adventure" in 2001. This is the story of a little i missing its tittle:

After working hard all summer with her teacher, Capital T, all the letters of the alphabet are on their way to the first day of school. But, they're held up when the letter I loses her dot. 'Hurry, school begins soon, we must find her dot or we'll be late,' says Capital T. The letters come up with a plan, but at the last moment the mischievous dot returns, anxious about being replaced.

This synopsis from Amazon also rates the reading level for the book as "baby to pre-school", but I'm thinking maybe it should be targeted at higher age groups as well.

Now many corporate citizens are using the time-honoured tittle correctly, and they've got no tittle trouble whatsoever. Companies like Intel, Fairfax, Citylink, Just Jeans and Jetstar - they're all using their tittles with respect and confidence, or simply upper-casing their logos just in case. Wizard Home Loans has even gone so far as to conspicuously colour their tittle, in an unabashed display of tittle pride.

While researching this rant I was both sidetracked and equally horrified by the number of people misspelling the word title¸ which of course is correctly spelled t-i-t-l-e. Maybe this is a topic for another equally important discourse.

And, as for Citibank, all I can say is, I hope they don't forget to dot their i's and cross their t's ... I'm sure they wouldn't like being referred to as "cilibank".

 
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