The Double Acute: Tight and Centered or Loose and Right-leaning? (With Evidence From Budapest Trip)

Birdseeding's picture

The Double Acute accent, or Hungarumlaut, is a character that practically only occurs in the Hungarian language. Months back I posted a thread about it, because I feel there's a basic problem with the way the glyphs /ő/ and /ű/ are normally drawn, based on what I percieve to be a set of faulty guidelines for how to draw it. Not sure it matters immensely, but this site is for detail fanatics, isn't it? :D

The Diacritics Project claims, in line with how most faces are drawn, that the double acute is meant to be optically centred over the character. Quite a common practice is also to set the accents tight next to each other, see for instance in Proxima Nova. I percieve both these aspects as "wrong" - I admit from the start - because the diacritic is used as a "long" version of the umlaut, and should therefore as far as possible be spaced apart as much as a diaresis, and also (because it's "rooted" in the umlaut) lean significantly to the right, not optically centred but right of optical centre.

I was on holiday in Hungary recently and took the opportunity to photograph some signs around town with double acutes on them. I decided to focus mainly on lettering, because this I think gives a good impression of how people "instinctually" draw the glyphs. But let me start with a stickerier tale of two /ő/s:

Now, this is clearly not lettering, but I think it reflects the dilemma quite well: In the top row, the sign maker has put the diacritics off the stickers as originally intended in the typeface, close to each other and optically centred; in the bottom row their feel for the writing has slippd in and they've spaced the diacritics wider than intended and put them futher right. I saw plenty of other examples of this "mis-stickering":

The last one is tight but still "too far right" by convention.

Most extreme right-misstickering I saw all trip:

Thing is. When taking pictures of signs my original impression of what was "right" or "wrong" got several more complications. To be fair, there are examples of several kinds below - pure lettering examples, some draughtsman's lettering, some engraved, some digital, some hand-painted:

Traditional Budapest street signage. BIG accents, right-leaning.

Sort of a counterexample, but still clearly derived from and related to umlaut - low, flat, centred.

Another sort of counterexample, but again clearly related to umlaut in shape and placement as before. This one is actually left of optical centre!

Some ****-off accents right there!

Sort of centred, but very widely spaced apart.

I realise it's script, but look how far right it goes compared to convetion! It also introduces another (still, I want to point out, umlaut-derived and related) variation I saw quite a bit on the hungarumlaut theme:

Long, tall, vertical lines for accents. The idea is similar to how they're drawn in hungarian handwriting.

(I also had this great example of DIN-Engschrift-like draughtsman's lettering with entirely vertical lines for accents, which I think worked quite well. Seem to have lost it in my directory though, can't seem to find it alas.)

Off a gravestone. Mostly still the "enlongated style" - very relatable to the umlaut!

Part of a memorial wall in the cemetary. Right-leaner.


So. What do you think? If I've learned anything it is to clearly relate the double acute to the umlaut. Am I right in thinking that?

eliason's picture

Not here to enter the debate, but just to thank you for taking the time to post these pics!

froo's picture

Some typefaces shown here didn't have right diacritrics or didn't have diacritics at all. So they were added - as you can see on pictures 2,3,4,9,12 - later. This situation: misstickering, adding accents reflecting handwriting (or just imaginary ones), is typical for small "adveritsing" business in probably all postcommunistic countries.

For me, the best examples are: the first row of 1, then 6,7,8.

Birdseeding's picture

Yup, those are the ones that are "correct" according to the standard type designer practice, sure. :)

But don't you think the fact that people (in adveritising, graphic designers, signmakers, draugthsmen, shopkeepers) are putting the diacritics instinctually in a different place is interesting?

froo's picture

It always is interesting and sometimes - refreshing.
But it's contemporary type designers, who dictate the rules (or the typefaces dictate rules to the type designers), and vernacular solutions wouldn't work well in a font.

(Many Poles, including me, write a- and eogonek with the tail turned leftwards, what is opposite to the norm, but I can't imagine the use of such form in [even a script] typeface - that would cause both readability- and typedesign-specific problems.)

Birdseeding's picture

To a certain extent, I guess. Though considering the number of Hungarian type designers today (we're not talking Kis Miklós here) it's worth remembering that the vast majority of typefaces are designed by people who don't read or use Hungarian.

What I'm trying to suggest here is that Hungarians who do read the language largely see contemporary design practice as "wrong" - in feel, if nothing else - compared to how they understand the symbol to be. It would be interesting to do a survey among typography-aware Hungarians but this is as close as I've got right now, that and my own instinct. :)

What problems would arise typographically - besides I guess kerning ones - from spacing out the accents more loosely and allowing a slight rightward overhang?

k.l.'s picture

Birdseeding – What I'm trying to suggest here is that Hungarians who do read the language largely see contemporary design practice as "wrong" ... compared to how they understand the symbol to be.

Which makes sense. After all, your examples show typographic/lettering work not of average native speakers but of designers (more or less). Gravestones are particularly interesting in this respect, and I would be curious to see more of them. And similar collections for other languages too ...

froo's picture

Personally, I think that "we" (I mean people using acutes), prefer when they lean a bit more to the right from the optical axis, because this kind of accent has a strong "vector". When the stroke leans to the right, it seems to refer to the inside part of a given, not preceding, letter.

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