Serif is a term from the printing industry, probably of Dutch origin. The Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary describes ‘serif’ as “a fine line finishing off the main strokes, as at the top and bottom of M or ending the cross stroke of T“.
A font which employs it is referred to as a serif font. Fonts that don’t are called ‘sans serif’. Example: the title of this blog, the headline of this piece, and the body text are all composed in a sans serif font.
Sans Serif is also, famously, the subject of one of the all-time-great April Fool’s jokes played by a broadsheet newspaper.
On April 1 of 1977, The Guardian, London, brought out a seven-page travel supplement in honour of the 10th anniversary of Sans Serriffe (capital: Bodoni), a small republic located in the Indian Ocean, consisting of several semi-colon shaped islands the biggest of which were Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its leader? General Pica.
A series of articles described the geography and culture of the place.
Accompanying advertisements too turned it on (Kodak: “If you have a photograph of Sans Seriffe, Kodak would like to see it.” Guinness: “How Sans Seriffe turned Guinness upside down.” Texaco: “Win two weeks in Sans Seriffe as a guest of James Hunt“).
Hundreds of readers began calling their travel agents for bookings and the newspaper for more information.
The Guardian even received a letter from a group calling itself the San Serriffe Liberation Front, which took the paper to task for the pro-government slant of its report.
Till it dawned on everybody that it was all an elaborate hoax to mark All Fools Day. Everything about the island was named after printer’s terminology.
The success of this prank, devised by Philip Davies, is widely credited with launching the enthusiasm for April foolery that has gripped British tabloids ever since.