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From Hrant H Papazian to the Typo-L Type Design mailing list, 17 February 2002 (via Microsoft Typography)

In evaluating a font, it would be nice to have a good test phrase.

Pangrams (like "The quick brown fox …") are nice, but they tend to sacrifice too much for compactness; a somewhat more elaborate sample text would make evaluation much richer.

So I started thinking about what constitutes a good test phrase, and here are the factors which I think need to be balanced against each other:

  1. It should be short.

  2. It should show each letter in the middle of other letters. This is to facilitate evaluation of spacing, noting that by "propagating" the evaluation chances are much better for arriving at a firm conclusion. For example, in the word "major", if the "aj" is loose, you could look at other words that have an "a*" (and so on) to figure out where the problem is. It's not water-tight, but it helps.

  3. The letters should occur alphabetically (for easy location).

  4. It shouldn't necessarily have a self-contained coherent meaning, but it should be a "normal" English sentence: using words that occur frequently, and no kinky Egyptian sex, please. But some awkwardness is probably inevitable.

  5. It should contain some extras like: punctuation, quotes, apostrophe*, hyphen, and some special-case words like "the", "I" and "a"" (the latter two especially helpful in evaluating an italic).

  6. It should be easy to memorize.

The most frequent words containing an apostrophe are: "don't", "it's", "I'm", "that's", "I'll", "couldn't", "can't", "you're". And I think "I'll"" provides the biggest spacing challenge.

In trying to maximize the "normalness" of the phrase, I talked to my good friend, Linguistics, and compiled the list of the most common English words containing each letter (as a middle letter):

a: that
b: about
c: which
d: made
e: they
f: after
g: through
h: the
i: with
j: major
k: like
l: all
m: some
n: and
o: for
p: people
q: require
r: are
s: these
t: with
u: but
v: have
w: two
x: next
y: system
z: size

Since the more common letters occur in many words, I managed to reduce this list down to 16 words. (BTW, this is where I decided that it should be two sentences - that and wanting to put in more punctuation.) However, in the case of frequent letters, this list was more of a hindrance than a help, and it was more effective to just think of common words myself; but for the less frequent letters, it helped a lot.

So, after a good amount of wrestling, here's what I've ended up with:

Incredibly, he makes a major life-change! For example: "I’ll require that the system have two sizes."

Comments? Improvements? A name for this thing (is "metagram" OK)? Other languages?