Peter Coleman: Lessons in brevity, typography… and a ‘new’ word

May 02, 2024 at 03:54 pm by admin

Early readers have their favourites among Readers Digest sections, but it was the “fillers” which followed longer reports that were perhaps the most memorable.

These gems of encapsulated wisdom were formative in broadening my early education… managing to say so much with so few words. Hopefully the brevity was a lesson for life.

Now the Reader’s Digest has suddenly stopped publishing in the UK after 86 years, perhaps for exactly that reason: Publishing a magazine for a generation that remembers those early days isn’t exactly a business model.

What I can’t remember, of course, is when I last saw a copy.

And neither probably, can anyone else. You might pick it up in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room, but not for the longer articles which were published. Columns such as ‘Laughter: the best medicine’ or ‘Humour in uniform’ might win a passing glance in the circumstances, but for me it was those ‘filler follows’ paragraphs. Here I learned ‘originality is the art of concealing your sources’… which speaks for itself!

With a huge circulation and a quirky format that meant heatset presses were often dedicated to its production, it appeared in the UK in 1938, after a start in the US 16 years earlier. According to editor-in-chief Eva Mackevic (on LinkedIn) it can no longer “withstand the financial pressures of today’s unforgiving magazine publishing landscape”.

I’m not alone in the “outpouring of remorse and recollection” – The Guardian is another publishing readers’ reminiscences – but there’s unlikely to be a reprieve. Reader’s Digest wasn’t so much a publication for those wanting to catch up on what they had missed; it was an entertaining way to fill idle moments.

Now even granddad checks his smartphone while waiting (yet longer) on the doc’s time, COVID-19 having cleared magazines from that space.


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I learned a new word today: Gish (as in ‘gish gallop of claims’).

For it I am indebted to Guardian’s Australia’s Tory Shepherd, who used the word in a report of the The Australian pulling an advertisement from the Climate Study Group, about which there had been a complaint to Ad Standards.

Shepherd says CSG had responded to claims that the ad was “misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive” and therefore breached the environmental code with what she called, “a gish gallop of claims – essentially repeating the claims it had initially made” before it “acquiesced” and said it would discontinue the ad.

Gish gallop? Apparently it’s when you swamp a debate with a mass of spurious arguments, too fast for them to be challenged.

Incidentally online sources suggest Scrabble users will find ‘gish’ is not OK to use. Nor’s OK, apparently, though the lowercase ok apparently is. I can’t say I’m happy with that.


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Nor for that matter, with ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’ – or ‘runts’ if you have to – in an age when publishing systems should know better than to spew out these antediluvian typographic abominations. As I recall, even the hard-wired hyphenation of 1960s Compugraphics could do better than that.

This clip from The Australian has two in the first three paragraphs.

Sections: Columns & opinion


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