Site Map
:: Bitwise Courses ::
Bitwise Dusty Archives



ruby in steel

learn aikido in north devon

Learn Aikido in North Devon


Section :: Rants and Raves

- Format For Printing...

The Comic Sans Liberation Front

The bandwagon is rolling but I won’t be jumping on…
Saturday 31 December 2011.

My New Year’s Resolution this year is to be less forgiving of stupidity. Detractors of the Comic Sans font come high on my list of offenders.

I first became aware of the mouth-foaming passion that the Comic Sans font arouses after I published a free eBook on Ruby programming. I decided that, since Ruby was a frothy, friendly kind of language I would use a frothy, friendly kind of font for the code listings. A boring font like Courier is ok for a workaday language such as Java or C#. But Ruby deserved something more frivolous – Comic Sans would do just fine.

Little did I know what a terrible thing I had done. Soon my book was being denounced on forums and comment-threads all over the damn’ place. Some people were of the opinion that anyone who could use Comic Sans must be inherently untrustworthy and possibly bordering on the demented. So, instead of judging the book by the information it contained, they judged it by the font.

More recently I provoked similar ire when my paperback book on Ruby programming was published. There was no Comic Sans in this one (that was the publisher’s choice, not mine!) – but this time I had committed the heinous crime of indenting my code by four spaces instead of two spaces as required by some mysterious inner circle of the Ruby Elect who pass judgment on such matters.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Now Ruby, unlike, for example, Python, doesn’t pay any attention to indents. If you use two, four, eight or thirty-seven space indents your Ruby programs will work just the same. The ‘two space’ indent prejudice is arbitrary. Just like the anti-Comic Sans prejudice. In both cases, the assessment that it is good or bad is not objectively verifiable. It’s just opinion. Moreover, holding that opinion is no reflection of a person’s intelligence, skill or coding excellence. It is just like wearing a badge saying: “I agree with them. They agree with me. Therefore, we must be right.

In classic propaganda, this is called the Bandwagon Effect. Put simply, it attempts to win you over to a viewpoint by stating that: “Everybody else believes this, so should you.” Commercial advertisers do this all the time. Propagandists often use the Bandwagon Effect in cahoots with another classic technique: Name-calling. Put the two together and you can say something such as “Anyone who uses Comic Sans is an idiot.” In that simple statement you are now using two powerful techniques of persuasion. First, you are suggesting that all rational, sensible people agree with a certain point of view (and therefore anyone else who considers themselves rational and sensible should agree too) and secondly, that anyone who disagrees is a fool (and you don’t want people to think you’re a fool, do you!). The appeal is entirely emotional, not at all intellectual. You’d think nobody would fall for it. But, on the contrary, many people accept it without a second thought.

The Grammar Police

It’s not just programmers who fall for these vapid non-arguments, however. As a writer, I have frequently had cause to take issue with the stupid ‘rules’ that are senselessly enforced by magazine and book publishers’ style sheets. On the whole, a style sheet is an arbitrary list of ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’ decrees aimed at people with a limited understanding of their native language. They make my blood boil!

At the most trivial level, style sheets prohibit things such as split infinitives (“to boldly go”). They also almost always forbid the use of “the passive voice”. For reasons which I’ve never understood, editors and subeditors prefer you to write in the active: “I see it” rather than the passive: “It is seen”. Why? I’ve heard all kinds of explanations over the years – active is more vigorous, it is clearer, it requires fewer words etc. etc. This is all a lot of nonsense, of course.

I’d been starting to think that I was a lone voice in defence of the passive when, to my joy, I stumbled upon a wonderful essay called ’50 Years Of Stupid Grammar Advice’, written by Geoffrey Pullum (professor of linguistics as the University of Edinburgh and co-author of ‘The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language’) who is also a regular contributor to the excellent Language Log.

In his essay, Pullum puts the blame for the widespread anti-passive prejudice on two fellows named Strunk and White, who wrote a much-revered book called ‘The Elements of Style’. Pullum describes Strunk and White as “grammatical incompetents”. Strunk and White disapproved of the passive and their nonsensical opinions have been repeated in countless style sheets ever since. Pullum shows clearly just how nonsensical their opinions were. It turns out that the authors were not at all clear on the distinction between active and passive and frequently got them confused…

“What concerns me [writes Pullum] is that the bias against the passive is being retailed by a pair of authors so grammatically clueless that they don’t know what is a passive construction and what isn’t. Of the four pairs of examples offered to show readers what to avoid and how to correct it, a staggering three out of the four are mistaken diagnoses.”

Sans Everything

Recently I came across a similarly baffled blog post by the physicist, Lubos Motl – and that brings me back to the subject which began this post. The cause of Motl’s bafflement was the virulence of some people’s antipathy towards the Comic Sans font.

Motl recalls being in an online chat room in which people were discussing serious physics-type stuff relating to the search for the Higgs boson. The talk turned to a presentation that had been given by Fabiola Gianotti, leader of the CERN ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) experiment. Ms Gianotti presented slides that used the Comic Sans font. Predictably, instead of concentrating on the content of her slides, some people started attacking her choice of font…

“Oh no! Oh no! Oh my God! Why!? She has used the Comic Sans font! The sky is falling!” (someone yelled).

Motl wonders why the font makes people go ballistic. It’s his view that the fact that the font was developed by Microsoft may have something to do with it. As a not-at-all-scientific experiment, I asked some of my non-programmer Facebook friends what they thought of Comic Sans. Every one of them said they liked it. And why not? It’s a perfectly good font. Lubos Motl has promised (threatened?) to change the default font on his blog to Comic Sans as he says he’s decided that the font is “just beautiful”.

While I have nothing against Comic Sans, I don’t think I’d want everything to be written in that font. But in small doses, it’s perfectly fine. Quite nice, in fact. The anti-Comic Sans movement is spouting prejudice pure and simple. What is astonishing is that so many people are willing unthinkingly to repeat the mantra that Comic Sans is bad, thereby displaying a Borg-like uniformity of opinion worthy of North Korea.

Personally, I plan to split infinitives, use the passive, indent my code by how ever many spaces I want to, and use any font I damn’ well like. And if anyone objects, well, that’s just too bad…

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


  • The Comic Sans Liberation Front
    7 January 2012, by Brad

    Huw- What font do you use in your programming editors? I find it absolutely ludicrous that people actually accept the default Courier font in Visual Studio. That should be one of the first things you change as font has a huge affect on code readability. Things like asterisks really stand out in certain fonts styles. I personally use Verdana in VC++ as it is a very compact font that puts much more text on the screen both in rows and columns. In fact there are some fonts in windows that are so wide that Verdana displays twice as much code in comparison. I even use Georgia 12pt in notepad, it amazes me that people keep that thin hard to see Courier in notepad. Of course Mac has much better default fonts than windows so the issue is not as bad there. Next time people complain about 2 space indentation in your code, show them how hard it is to see in compact font like Verdana.

    • The Comic Sans Liberation Front
      7 January 2012, by Huw Collingbourne

      I change fonts every once in a while. I used to use Verdana. Currently I have Consolas in Visual Studio. I’d have to check what I have on my Mac. I also have different fonts (on another PC, so I can’t check at the moment) when I’m working in Smalltalk. For some reason, I always prefer less formal fonts for Smalltalk than for a language such as C# or ActionScript. This probably says something about the way I feel about those languages. As for the 2-space indent thing. You just wouldn’t believe how annoyed some people get if you don’t use the same indent-level they think you should. I’ve given up any attempt to justify my indent-levels. All I’m saying is that I indent by 4 spaces, I’ll continue to indent by 4 spaces and if one day I decide to indent by 17 spaces and use Mediaeval Gothic script in my code editor, well, heck, that’s my business and nobody else’s! ;-)



bupropion sun pharma http://www.actuabd.com/?order=608302 sustanon 250 gains accutane buy buy amlodac online http://www.actuabd.com/?order=933865 waklert 150 in france arcalion sulbutiamine 200mg http://www.actuabd.com/?order=677677 orlistat online without prescription in usa modalert cheap online in new york budeprion sr 150mg more info about buy lithosun online where can i buy armodafinil fluticasone propionate oral inhaler more generic acamprol 40mg prilosec http://www.actuabd.com/?order=975460 metronidazole order cheap fluticasone propionate ns doxycycline 100 mg capsules caverta 100mg mail order lipitor buy cheap attentrol in canada quetiapine 1300 mg the drug femara otc zantac 150mg 100 diflucan mg in india rifaximin buy floricot more info orlistat wholesale buy bimatoprost http://www.actuabd.com/?order=807031 buy generic bimatoprost 0.03 budeprion xl generic buy generic nodict modalert for cheap lasix no rx norvasc mg ciprofloxacin hcl 500 tablets buy bimatoprost without prescription enalapril malaete lithosun lowest price eriacta buy bortenat canada amlodipine discounts in new york antibiotic bactrim http://www.actuabd.com/?order=857950 buy rizact without a prescription esomeprazole 20mg clomiphene 50mg in mexico buy acamprol bactrim plus fmg purchase femara imatinib mesylate canada dilantin 300 mg accutane on line