It is utterly remarkable that in this year of the Common Era 2020 that even in Unicode you can’t write Hebrew in Microsoft Word without gymnastics. The task at work was a fairly simple one: proofread the Hebrew in a typeset manuscript ready for the printer. This means the manuscript is a PDF at this point and to get Hebrew to appear in a comment bubble you need to copy it from Word and paste it in. But wait! Word only has some Hebrew letters in its Symbols menu. Try getting a yod to appear. I looked up a Unicode chart, copied and pasted the Unicode unique identifier and Word gave me a capital P. Not a jot or tittle to be found. So, to get the yod I had to fetch my personal Mac and use the language menu and type the word out. Copy. Paste in an email from my personal account to my work account. Wait. Open work email message. Copy again. Paste again.
Using this method, a task that would take me maybe twenty minutes stretched into hours. There was simply no way to get Microsoft Word to display a full Hebrew alphabet shy of changing the language on the computer. And since I don’t read Modern Hebrew I had a feeling that would lead to disaster. Part of the problem is that programmers thought it would be smart to make Unicode Hebrew automatically appear right to left. This has been the bane of many of us since the earliest word processors tried to replicate the language. We grew used to typing it in backwards. Now you never know which letter is going to disappear if you hit delete—it doesn’t help that it can act differently on a Mac than on your standard business-issue PC. Not only that, but when you paste it the receiving document often automatically reverses word order. Can I get a pen and paper over here?
I sometimes jokingly lament the hold that technology has on us. In some instances the joking takes on a serious tone, I know. I do wonder about having techies drive where we’re going. It’s one thing to make it possible to print Hebrew letters in electronic form, but it is quite another to read them and have a sense of what they’re saying. And those of us challenged by the whole right-left orientation and a cursor blinking on one side of a word but having its effect on the other wonder if it’s worth the effort. There’s a reason ancient people wrote in clay, it seems.
The word “legacy,” I fear, is losing its meaning. Well, words really don’t having “meanings” as much as they have “usages,” but still you get my point. When I was young (before the Internet had been invented) a legacy was a time-honored contribution. Something that had, perhaps, been a family heirloom or a significant school of thought. Legacy today simply means something outdated. It’s a polite word for “old.” I’m reminded of this constantly in our computer age. I’ve never been a fan of lingo. In fact, I seldom use slang. (I think it was being raised with Holy Writ that said, “Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.”) It’s not that I don’t hear slang frequently. I can even replicate it when necessary. It’s just my legacy.
The other day I attended a meeting about fonts. I never stop to think much about fonts. I’ve designed a few (on paper only, that most archaic of ancient mediums) and I enjoy the wonder of knowing that no matter how embellished or plain, an A is still an A, just as surely as a yea is a yea. When discussing fonts, however, “legacy fonts” kept coming up. Perhaps alone in the room I could recall the days before computers. The days when a font was a set of clearly defined green dots that you could trace with your eye as they appeared on the cathode-ray tube. The legacy fonts under discussion were much more recent than that. It was simply a way of saying fonts we no longer use. Old fonts. Outdated fonts.
Unicode, to be sure, is a thing of wonder. As a scholar who struggled to get Hebrew vowel points to line up correctly on the pages of his dissertation, I knew well the benefits of having a system to organize any sign we use in writing. Even as recently as my last book, published last year, I was still struggling to find transliteration symbols for some words in Ugaritic. I’m sure they must exist in Unicode, although I don’t know if Unicode Ugaritic is yet a reality. It’s barely a reality in biblical studies any more. So maybe I’m just feeling like the memory of ancient things has been devalued. We go after the new, the fresh, the simply coded. Meanwhile, I still prefer to write with pen on paper. I’m old-fashioned in that way. Those who are too kindly disposed might even say, although I would blush at the compliment, that I’m a legacy.
A legacy font?
Photo credit: Bilsenbatten, Wikimedia Commons