Arrant Pedantry



This is a subject I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time, but the recent movie WALL-E has reminded me of the issue once again, and that is this: some people seem to think that logos are the ultimate guide to the orthography of some names.

Now, Bill Walsh has already covered this topic on his site, the Slot, but it’s worth covering again. I’ve seen a couple different websites that pointed out that WALL-E is either spelled with or “promoted with” an interpunct, and I got involved in a forum discussion where people were wondering whether the dot should be rendered as a hyphen or an asterisk (once again, someone explained that it’s an interpunct).

Something about this strikes me as silly. Did I miss the memo when it was announced that graphic designers are the arbiters of proper orthography? And why is it that some people kowtow to certain logos and not others? After all, as Bill Walsh points out, nobody insists that the proper spelling of Macy’s is actually macy*s, so why do we worry about whether it’s WALL-E or WALL*E or WALL·E? (Then again, I see Wal*Mart plenty often. Perhaps there’s some research grant money to be had in studying the sociolinguistics of brand name orthography.)

A while back, I thought this issue mostly cropped up with tech companies (particularly internet companies, like Yahoo and eBay), but then I started seeing the aforementioned Wal*Mart as well as car names like SATURN (remind me again what that stands for) and Mazda6 (now we have to match the italics too? What next, colors and fonts?) I don’t know if this is just an example of the recency illusion, but it does seem like a lot of people nowadays don’t really know how to properly represent brand names.

And anyway, getting back to WALL-E, how do we even know that that’s an interpunct? The Wikipedia article doesn’t cite a source for this fact, and it’s not easy to tell from the logo whether it’s an interpunct, a bullet point, or just a dot. When a novelty font uses a decorative punctuation mark, it might be impossible to say what character that mark is supposed to correspond to. It might not correspond to anything at all, as with the stars in Macy’s and Wal-Mart. As Walsh notes, the five-sided star used in those logos is not the same thing as an asterisk.

I really see no good reason to forsake good judgement and slavishly copy the styling of logos, especially since it’s not always possible to do so. After all, the purpose of a logo is to be eye-catching and recognizable, not to conform to the principles of good spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. I say let logos be logos and text be text. It’s the job of editors to use common sense and good judgement in helping text to conform to reasonable standards. It’s not our job to mindlessly reproduce what we see.

7 Responses to Logography

  1. Bill Walsh says:

    And then there’s the capitalization issue. Unless it’s pronounced dubya-dubya-ay-el-el-ee, it’s Wall-E.

  2. rivka says:

    But it’s an abbreviation, Bill.

  3. Jonathon says:

    If I understand correctly, the AP style guide says that acronyms should be lowercased (or just initial capped) while plain old initialisms get all caps. My gut reaction is that I don’t agree with that rule, but that may be material for another post.

  4. Brinestone says:

    I totally don’t agree with the AP on that, then. I think it’s important to know that each letter in NASA stands for something when you look at it—more important, anyway, than pointing out that you should pronounce it as a word instead of each individual letter. In my experience, people rarely mix up acronyms and initialisms (i.e., say “oo-sah” for USA or “ess-see-you-bee-ay” for SCUBA). But acronyms are spelled like actual words often enough that I can see confusion resulting from following that rule to the letter (couldn’t resist the pun, sorry).

  5. patrick says:

    Wall-E seems to appeal more to the internet generation

  6. The Ridger says:

    The Brits do that acronym thing – they’re always talking about Nato and Nasa and so on. You get used to it, but it’s confusing at first.

  7. Since I frequently rely on Bill Walsh in these matters, it was his book I invoked in a recent conversation about whether to capitalize “Adidas” in one of our publications. There was a strong disposition to keep it “adidas” as it appears everywhere, but eventually, fueled by “Lapsing Into A Comma,” “Adidas” prevailed.

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