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Counting the future for the Class of 2012


Could one of the Class of 2012 occupy the Oval Office one day? Possibly, but his or her fortunes could depend on the length of a name.

If the potential politician’s name is “Alphonse Jonathon Barraclough,” the odds are against the candidate. There is nothing wrong with any of the names, but together they will never appear in a headline of any size.

However, if the name was “Jonathon Alphonse Barraclough,” it might work if he didn’t object to “JAB” — as in JFK (John F. Kennedy) or LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson). Then there was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who grew up with the nickname “Ike.”

Copy editors, the journalists who wrote headlines for newspapers and magazines in that era, must have loved Eisenhower’s nickname. Today the same professionals are often called “paginators” because they design a page on a computer.

Back in the days of Ike, JFK and LBJ, headline writers had to manually “count” their heds (headlines). They had to determine how much horizontal space a hed took up by assigning each character (letter, number or punctuation mark, along with any spaces between words) a numeric value, then adding up all the values on each line of the hed. Today you don’t have to manually count heds this tedious way when writing on a computer. However, it’s still helpful to know the process so you can recognize which letters are taking up the most room on a line.

Counting methods vary, but here’s a standard rule of thumb: Count all lower-case letters as one, except f l i t j count as one-half each; m w count as one and one-half; all upper-case letters as one and one-half; a capital I counts as one-half; and an upper-case M W count as two each.

Count all numerals as one, except 1 counts as one-half ; each space and punctuation mark counts as one-half.

Copy editors did not use calculators, but added the count in their head. They did it as they wrote headlines on a manual typewriter, marking corrections with a lead pencil.

Most had memorized the basic counts required per column, with a simple chart showing the differences between points (type size) and fonts. Font is frequently used synonymously today with typeface, although they had clearly different meanings before the advent of digital typography and desktop publishing.

An old-style copy editor might pick a political candidate based on the candidate’s name. One veteran desk editor swore he voted for Al Gore over George W. Bush in 2000 because “Gore” was a count of four and “Bush” was four and one-half. His decision didn’t matter because the election was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, not by a journalist.

Many individuals have prejudices over names. One woman we knew didn’t trust any individual who substituted an initial for a first name. She wouldn’t do business with someone named “R. John Smith,” for example. She also didn’t like people with thin lips, but couldn’t explain that prejudice.

Orion Vick II, who graduated Thursday with the Class of 2012, probably has a first and last name the old copy editor would have liked: A count of nine with the first and last name combined.

That same copy editor wouldn’t care for today’s computer-generated headlines that can be “squeezed” a bit if they are too long. He would call it cheating.

• • • Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.