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Posts Tagged ‘Mumtaz Mahal

“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”*…

From the annals of advertising…

Planted in 1938, the Studebaker sign in Bendix Woods was once recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest living advertisement. In its prime, it contained 8,000 red and white pine trees. After 75 years with no maintenance, it has thinned out to just 2,000 but is still visible from the air.

Back in 1926, the Studebaker Corporation built what it claimed to be the first closed testing facility for an American car company. The automobile manufacturer, founded in 1852, spent more than one million dollars on the test facility, which included a three-mile circuit with a variety of special test sections including hill climbs, skid pads, snaking curves, and bumpy roads.

Naturally, if you’re going to spend a million dollars on a test circuit, you might as well invest a little more on a giant living sign made out of pine trees that’s only visible from the air, so that’s what Studebaker did…

Initially, the letters were nicely ordered, well defined and maybe even a little skinny. They were easy to read from the air, which is exactly what Studebaker intended. The sign was a salute to the growing aviation industry and a handy publicity stunt that could be seen by overflying aircraft passengers.

Over the years, of course, the pine trees grew and so did the letters. Studebaker, on the other hand, started to wither away. After years of financial problems, the company closed its last remaining production facility in 1966. Studebaker sold the land on which the trees stood to the Bendix Corporation, which donated some of the property for the creation of a county park (hence its current name: Bendix Woods County Park)…

Despite the demise of its namesake company, the Studebaker sign remained. In 1985, it was included in the National Register of Historic Places. Two years later, it first appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s “largest living advertisement sign” (a record that no longer seems to exist)…

One of the world’s largest living advertisements is made out of pine trees: the “Studebaker Tree Sign,” from @atlasobscura.

* Advertising pioneer Leo Burnett


As we think big, we might recall that today is a momentous one in the histories of two other monumental messages:

On this date in 1631 Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved wife of the fifth Mughal emperorShah Jahan, died. He spent the next 17 years building her mausoleum, the Taj Mahal.


And on this date in 1885 the Statue of Liberty— a message of affection and respect from the people of France– arrived in New York Harbor.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 17, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Perhaps the window is not a sun but an asterisk, interrupting the grammar of the sky”*…

Ceiling paper, by Steubenville Wallpaper Company, c. 1905. Cooper Hewitt

With luck, this is the final logistical note to those readers who subscribe by email: Google is discontinuing the Feedburner email service that (Roughly) Daily has used since its inception; so email will now be going via Mailchimp. That should be relatively seamless– no re-subscription required– but there may be a day or two of duplicate emails, as I’m not sure how quickly changes take effect at Feedburner. If so, my apologies. For those who don’t get (Roughly) Daily in their inboxes but would like to, the sign-up box is to the right… it’s quick, painless, and can, if you change your mind, be terminated with a click. And now, to today’s business…

Sumerian pictographic writing includes a sign for “star” that looks like a modern asterisk. These early writings from five thousand years ago are the first known depiction of an asterisk; however, it seems unlikely that these pictograms are the forerunner of the symbol we use today. Palaeographers know that Aristarchus of Samothrace (220–143 bc) used an asterisk symbol when editing Homer in the second century bc, because later scholars wrote about him doing so. Physical examples of Aristarchus’ asterisks have not survived, so we cannot know their physical shape, but as the word asteriskderives from the Greek asteriskos, meaning “little star,” an assumption has been made that they resembled a small star. Aristarchus used the symbols to mark places in Homer’s text that he was copying where he thought passages were from another source. By the third century Origen of Alexandria had adopted the asterisk when compiling the Hexapla—a Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, the Septuagint. Origen used the asterisk to demarcate texts that he had added to the Septuagint from the original Hebrew. Both these early uses of the asterisk are as an editing tool, to notify the reader that the passage they are reading should be read with caution.

In the medieval period the asterisk continued to be employed in the copying of Bibles to flag up text from other sources. It also was increasingly used as a signe de renvoi (sign of return)—a graphic symbol which indicates where a correction or insertion should be made, with a corresponding mark in the margin with the correct text inserted. The asterisk is also found in medieval texts as a sign of omission. The use of the asterisk by scribes copying the Bible continued with the advent of the printing press; early printed Bibles, such as Robert Estienne’s 1532 Latin Bible, make use of an asterisk. Scribes did not always use the modern asterisk shape, some instead adopting a hooked cross with dots between each arm. However, when the asterisk was cut into type it was rendered as the five- or six-pointed star, and this is the form that has largely endured.

The asterisk (often used interchangeably with the dagger or obelus) persisted as an editing mark but was also frequently used as a caveat, showing that the passage highlighted by the asterisk was served by a footnote or side note. By the eighteenth century the asterisk was being deployed as a sort of censorship, covering up letters to represent a d**n vulgar word without actually b****y spelling it out. But, as W. Somerset Maugham points out, this has become somewhat outmoded: “We have long passed the Victorian era when asterisks were followed after a certain interval by a baby.”

A similar method, however, is still employed in comics, where it is known as grawlix, although the swear words are usually represented by a series of graphical glyphs, for example %@~#$!, rather than just asterisks. One of the problems with using asterisks to deaden the effect of a swear word is that it just draws attention to it (sometimes simply because one spends ages trying to work out which word the author is censoring).

In modern printed books [and in the titles of posts on (Roughly) Daily] the asterisk is most likely to show up as a method to mark footnotes. In advertising and on packaging it is generally a caveat—an advert might state “Free Beer*” but when you follow the asterisk you discover in the terms and conditions that to claim the free beer you must sign over your firstborn. Online and on instant messaging, asterisks have become increasingly useful and now provide a series of services; for example, to show emphasis, in the way italics are used on the printed page. This use probably started on certain online forums where to make a word show up as bold it needed to be surrounded by asterisks, like *this*. This convention then crept online where, rather than using bold to show emphasis, the asterisks serve the purpose instead.

It is also frequently used for corrections when you male* a spelling mistake.

* make

The history of the asterisk: “A Star is Born,” excerpted from Hyphens & Hashtags*: *The Stories Behind the Symbols on Our Keyboard by Claire Cock-Starkey, published by Bodleian Library Publishing. Copyright © 2021 by Claire Cock-Starkey. Distributed in North America by the University of Chicago Press. Via Lapham’s Quaterly.

* China Mieville


As we annotate accurately, we might recall that it was on this date in 1631 that Mumtaz Mahal died during childbirth. Her husband, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan I, spent the next 17 years building her mausoleum, the Taj Mahal.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 17, 2021 at 1:00 am

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