Tuesday, March 30, 2021

American Calligraphy #14: Ambigrams for April Fools Day

ABCs of the USA: The stories behind America's most distinctive calligraphy styles.   

These ambiguous figures debuted as "inversions" by Scott Kim (b 1955-) in his 1981 book of the same name, and by John Langdon (b 1946-). Then they were re-named "ambigrams" by Douglas Hofstadter (b 1945). Philosophically resembling palindromes, they perform the seemingly magical trick of being readable in at least two directions. Their capacity to be two words at once, or to keep being themselves when upside down, derives from a quirk of the Roman lower-case alphabet, which lets one letter transform into another when it is rotated ⤿ or flipped →. 

For instance: b ⤿ q.  d ⤿ p.  n ⤿ u.          b → d.  p → q.

No other writing system in the world has quite this peculiarity. Also, ambigram designers stretch and squeeze other pairs of letters that almost resemble each other when rotated or flipped: 

For instance: e ⤿ a.  V ⤿ A.  N ⤼ Z.  s → z.   h ⤿ y.  f ⤿ j.  

This ambigram reads "alphabet" either way. 
A symmetrical alphabet
by Scott Kim. 

This ambigram personal logo
reads '"margaret" one way and 
"shepherd" when rotated 180°. 

Many names and logos can be pushed and pulled into forms that, when inverted, resemble themselves or another readable word. Look for the pairs shown above, and don't try too hard to transform short words into long words.

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