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Subject: Legibility vs. Readability
From: Rodger Whitlock <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Discussion of Type and Typographic Design <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 6 Aug 1999 17:03:12 +0000

text/plain (37 lines)

On  6 Aug 99 at 6:00, Edward Burke wrote:

> Hmmm, this is getting more confusing. Even by dictionary definition
> the terms 'legibility' and 'readability' are interchangable.

No, not quite. I've not been following this thread with great care,
but I've watched it. And, as sometimes happens, yesterday over
breakfast [1] I had an insight.

"Readable" has broader implications than the merely visual, the
purely typographic. For example, we say that a certain author's
books are readable, meaning that his prose is well-constructed and
the mind absorbs it easily. "Legible" OTOH is strictly concerned
with the visual. A totally unreadable book (say, almost any of
Liberty Hyde Bailey's horticultural tomes) may be perfectly legible.

One can print readable prose in illegible type  -- and vice versa.

Now, this insight doesn't resolve the dispute we have been having,
which is concerned with "readibility" in a typographic context. But
this insight -does- suggest that "readable" is more concerned with
the overall process of reading and absorbing content, while "legible"
is more concerned with micro-issues.

Another,  hypothetical example: consider a book well printed (ah,
those Dutch!) in an alphabet and language one does not know. Legible?
Certainly. Readable? No, not at all.

[1] After 30 years in Canada I think I've discovered the secret of
dealing with insipid, underspiced Canajun breakfast sausage: add
pepper and the sage to the frying pan with a generous hand!

Rodger Whitlock

"The paper said today that Canadians eat more donuts per capita than any other nation."

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