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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 1, March 2012

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Claire Everett
Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England


Coining a Phrase

his passion
for the printed word . . .
from the mist-clad
mountains of Jura
this lithographic stone

Crimson and black, the sweet smell of ink. Votes for Women! The King is Dead! Headlines heckle him as another performance rolls off the press for this new batch of museum visitors. He revels in the theatre of it all, fully immersed in his role, cheeks ruddy from the heat of the old Columbian.

"How old are you, lad?" his broad Yorkshire accent, the question directed at our son, who's right at the front, eager to get a clear view of this Edwardian print shop for his school history project.

"Fourteen."

"Eee, that's just the age for an apprentice. Are you left-handed, or right-handed?"

"Left, sir."

"Sheeesh!," he sucks in air through his teeth, "Tha's no good to me then. I can't make use of a left-handed apprentice. Have tha ever heard of the phrase, 'the wrong end of the stick'?" He picks up the typesetter's composing stick to demonstrate. "Now, b'the time I'd set the letters into this and passed it to you, thus—" he throws his arm out to the side, "tha'd take it like this and set the letters down on the galley all wrong. Meaningless." He shakes his head. "We work in such tight conditions, everything has to go like clockwork".

With relish, he goes on to regale us with every well-worn phrase which had its origins in his esteemed profession. From how the new apprentice had to mind his p's and q's, to the way coins were used to wedge columns of type in the printer's chase. He demonstrates how everything was to hand at all times, the large letters arranged on the top sloping shelf, the small letters, most frequently used, on the bottom shelf. "Hence," he says, with a final flourish, "the terms, upper case and lower case". The bald eagle counterweight perched on the top lever of the press eyes him curiously.

One genuine derivation our friend didn't mention—the word 'cliché', from the French cliquer, the clicking sound of the stamp as it made a metal typeface.

click, click
we make a stereotype
the chink
of the matrix
in molten metal

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