Ask Dr. Design

(Cross-posted from
Dear Dr. Design:
My wife and I are having an argument that I hope you can settle. I say that you pronounce “sans serif” so it rhymes with “mans sheriff”; she insists that knowledgeable typophiles pronounce it so it rhymes with “sahn sa’riff,” which you say while holding your nose. Who’s is right? (And there’s a bet between us. I can’t tell you what it is, but I REALLY, REALLY want to win….).
— Kent Wynn

Dr. Design:
First, Kent, having spent some time in the throes of unholy matrimony, I can tell you the answer before I even hear the question. Your wife is right. She is always right, right? That’s part of the Divine Right of All Wives. It’s like it is given to them during the wedding ceremony somehow, through some sort of secret signal or incantation that the minister slips in during the mumbo-jumbo part that nobody ever listens to.

It’s a good thing there’s no annual test on what you agreed to during the ceremony. The wedding routine is kind of like those 55-page site policy statements that we agree to on web sites without even reading the first paragraph. Most men are standing there thinking, “OK, yada, yada, yada, let’s have those drinks and get to the honeymoon!”

One more thing before I get to your question. I think it is incredibly unfair to accuse all typography mavens of liking children a tad too much. It’s one thing to freak out about all-CAPS in long blocks of body type, and quite another to be interested in….(Editor steps in)….what? Oh, that’s a pedophile! I thought a pedophile was a person with a foot fetish. Oops! My mistake. Move along, nothing to see here.

At any rate, the pronunciation depends on who you are with while discussing typography and what part of the country you are from. For instance, if you are from the South, the correct way to say it is, “tahpe without those funny little thingies on the ends.”

If you are from the Northeast, your response would be, “Yeah, so what? Who’s askin’?

If you are from Colorado, you are too whacked out on medical marijuana you got from your hangnail physician (left hand specialist) to really give a damn. I mean, like…who cares?

So Kent, the answer is that, unless you are French or French-Canadian, trying to say it right will just bring on more acrimony and disdain from the Francophiles (don’t ask) in the crowd. Speaking French is kind of like being married: you will never please the other person, so give up trying.

If you would like to ask Dr. Design a question, send it to Dr. Design, in care of He will get to your question in the order they came in or he will forget about it totally and you won’t get a response for years, if ever.

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