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Off topic: Book titles: top to bottom, or bottom to top?
Thread poster: xxxmediamatrix
xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 15:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nov 5, 2007

While searching in my (paper ) library for something today I was struck - and not for the first time - by the fact that in some languages book titles are written from top to bottom of the spine, whilst in other languages they go from bottom to top (for books, that is, that are too thin to print the title horizontally). Hours later my neck still aches!

From my days as head of publications at a bilingual organization I know the rules for English and French:

The English convention is 'top to bottom', the justification being that if a book is lying normally on the table - i.e. with the front cover uppermost - then it is helpful if the title can be read normally on the spine.

The French convention is 'bottom to top', the justification (according to my former boss in Brussels, a Frenchman pur et dur) being that you only need to read the title on the spine if the book is the wrong way up on the table.

Hmmmmm. So much for entente cordiale!

From what I see on my bookcases, the English convention applies equally to works published in the UK and the US. The French convention applies to many publications from France and Belgium; but there are some notable exceptions: for example, the well-known French publisher Dunod puts its titles (at least on the volumes in my collection) à l'anglaise; the French-language edition of a book from a publisher in Flemish-speaking Antwerp also has the title from top to bottom.

I have a few exceptions in English, too - but on books in English published in Germany: titles bottom to top. I'm not a lover of German and on my few works in this language exactly half the titles go one way and the other half the other way; that doesn't quite tally with the traditional view we have of how Germany does things, does it? One Swiss book on the shelves - from a Swiss German publisher - is à la française - as are all those from Swiss French publishers. My books in Spanish are mostly from Chilean and Argentinian publishers and they go from bottom to top. However the Spanish editions of books from the US publisher McGraw Hill go top to bottom (like their English originals). So, too, do those (very few, I confess) in Russian and Portuguese.

So, everyone, what's the convention in your language/country? And what's the reasoning behind it?

And the subsidiary question is : does your neck ache, too, at the end of a hard day at the office?

MediaMatrix


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patyjs  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 14:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
Drives me nuts!! Nov 5, 2007

Now that I come to think of it, it's a question that has long been in my own mind. I admit I never even knew conventions existed...I always assumed it depended on what the publisher was on at the time!

I now see that all my English language books are top down with the exception of two, which are printed horizontally.

All my Spanish language books (Mexican) are bottom up with the exception of one, a translation, which is top down.

This has evidently made me so dizzy in the past that I have missed the obvious.
I will separate them!!

The problem prevails in bookstores and libraries, however, which have us doing a ritual akin to the mating dance of some little known, and surely almost extinct, species.

Thanks mm for shedding light.

Paty

[Edited at 2007-11-05 23:57]


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 15:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
And that little known, and surely almost extinct, species in question ... Nov 6, 2007

patyjs wrote:

The problem prevails in bookstores and libraries, however, which have us doing a ritual akin to the mating dance of some little known, and surely almost extinct, species.


... would be the 'book-lover'?

Oh dear! That's ... us!

MediaMatrix


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
Maddening, isn't it? Nov 6, 2007

My solution is to keep all the books on my shelves in "top to bottom" position, so all the titles are facing the same way. It means some of the books are upside down, but it doesn't matter since you can only see the spines anyway.

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:43
English to Spanish
+ ...
Spanish Nov 6, 2007

Good point. I have noticed that books in Spanish can have the titles either way. I've come out of many a bookstore (Mexico, Chile) with a sore neck. I wish they would get it together.

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The Misha
Local time: 15:43
Russian to English
+ ...
Who cares? Nov 6, 2007

For Christ's sake, what does it matter?

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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 22:43
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Germany like France Nov 6, 2007

I'm still used to bend my head to the left, so I can read the titles of books on shelves in German libraries. But in Finland they follow the English tradition, so I would have to bend the head to the right when walking in front of the shelf. Instead I try most of the time to read the titles upside-down. Strange, isn't it? No wonder I seldom find anything but have to ask the librarian for help.
Cheers
Heinrich


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Raffaella Cornacchini  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:43
English to Italian
+ ...
Italian rule: no rules Nov 6, 2007

You can find both (and I know since I work in a publishing house and the matter has been discussed with fellow publishers over and over again). However I would say most Italian publishers follow the UK standard, as we do.
Raffaella


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Tetyana Dytyna  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 22:43
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
This makes sense Nov 6, 2007

Thanks for a liberating tip! I'm thinking now of rearranging my book collection by this principle
In Ukraine, we have a total confusion: old Soviet books all had titles bottom-up, and most of the modern Ukrainian publishers prefer top-down.

Steven Capsuto wrote:

My solution is to keep all the books on my shelves in "top to bottom" position, so all the titles are facing the same way. It means some of the books are upside down, but it doesn't matter since you can only see the spines anyway.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:43
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
In South Africa... Nov 6, 2007

mediamatrix wrote:
While searching in my (paper ) library for something today I was struck - and not for the first time - by the fact that in some languages book titles are written from top to bottom of the spine, whilst in other languages they go from bottom to top (for books, that is, that are too thin to print the title horizontally).


Most books published in South Africa these days have the top-to-bottom approach... and to your French boss I say, we don't have so many tables in Africa that we have one book on each... and if you stack the books, you need to be able to read their spines.

Older books published in South Africa often used the bottom-to-top method.

Bottom-up also makes sense, in a way: it makes the letters on the spine flow in the same direction as the letters on the cover, and this may be esthetically pleasing when you hold the book in your hands.


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Hester Eymers  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:43
Member (2005)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Pain in the neck Nov 6, 2007

mediamatrix wrote:

The English convention is 'top to bottom', the justification being that if a book is lying normally on the table - i.e. with the front cover uppermost - then it is helpful if the title can be read normally on the spine.

The French convention is 'bottom to top', the justification (according to my former boss in Brussels, a Frenchman pur et dur) being that you only need to read the title on the spine if the book is the wrong way up on the table.


Nice topic! I really liked the French explanation!

In the Netherlands we follow the English convention, though. Germans follow the French (quite an exception to the general rule, I think), as Heinrich stated. French and German books are a 'pain in the neck' for me - though I do like to read them sometimes...


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PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:43
English to Polish
+ ...
Books Nov 6, 2007

what does it matter?


Well, some things are more important than others in this world.

Books in the two languages I have books in are, unfortunately, non-compliant.
In Polish books, titles mostly go bottom to top.

Top to bottom is more logical for me, because it is more natural for reading book titles on a shelf from left to right.

That said, it's not really a problem I lose much sleep over...

Keep a book upside down on a shelf???!!! all the letters will fall out!

Pawel Skalinski


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Isabel Booth  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:43
Italian to English
Like It! Nov 6, 2007

PAS wrote:

[Keep a book upside down on a shelf???!!! all the letters will fall out!



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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
Who cares Nov 6, 2007

The Misha wrote:

For Christ's sake, what does it matter?


I guess it depends how many books you have and how often you go looking for a particular one.

If you have thousands of volumes and if half the titles go one way and half go the other way, it's very hard to scan the spines quickly for a particular title; you have to keep tilting your head one way, then the other, and then back again, and then back the other way yet again.

It goes much faster if they're all on the the shelves facing the same way. I find the same holds true with some foreign DVD cases: I have to store them upside down if I want the titles to be easily readible alongside the other discs' labeling.

[Edited at 2007-11-06 15:50]


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Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 15:43
English to Spanish
Loved this thread!!! Nov 10, 2007

I had never given serious thought to this, though every time I leave a bookstore I do so with a crick in my neck.

This made a lot of sense to me:

mediamatrix wrote:

The French convention is 'bottom to top', the justification (according to my former boss in Brussels, a Frenchman pur et dur) being that you only need to read the title on the spine if the book is the wrong way up on the table.



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