Times New Roman is not as bad as you think it is

I have, of late, grown a fondness towards Times New Roman. Perhaps it is the bibliophile in me — although a lot of imprints these days too are letting go of the Times family for preppier alternatives like Garamond and Palatino.

Contrary to popular belief, Times New Roman is not a classical typeface like, say, the very Swiss, very classic Helvetica — another personal favorite of mine — or even the slightly more modern Helvetica Neue or its grandfather, Akzidenz Grotesk.

But to truly appreciate Times New Roman (TNR henceforth for simplicity) we will have to understand a little bit about its history, and that story begins in the 1930s.


How the phrase “Ha ha!” originated

[dropcap1]W[/dropcap1]E HAVE USED the phrase so often that it is quite clichéd; and yet hardly any funny quip goes by without receiving a “Ha ha!” (Or several “Ha has” if you will.)

How many times have we really wondered where that expression came from, or why we use it? It was one of the seemingly trivial questions I often asked myself but never quite got around to finding a convincing answer. I still have not, to be frank, but in this article I intend to explain an extremely plausible reason.

[notice type=”red”]All opinions expressed in this article, including, but not limited to, theories, explorations and opinions, are the author’s own and are neither affiliated with any external sources nor are derivatives of other sources. For more questions, contact the author directly.[/notice]

Does the expression — by which, naturally, I mean the written one — have its origins in the sound of common human laughter (the one that goes “Ha ha ha ha…,) or does it stem from something more obscure? I would vouch partly for both, but mostly for the latter. Besides the reason I do think is right, is  lot more interesting :-)

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The various versions of “Ha ha!”

While “Ha ha!” may be the most recognisable onomatopoeia, there are several other versions that point to the same sound of (human) laughter. And many of these vary by less than the width of a hair.

Besides “Ha ha!” we have “Ah-ha ha!” or “Hah hah!” or “Ah hah!” or “Ha hah!” and so on. Besides this lot are words imitating a more muffled/unsure laughter, such as “He he!” or “Huh!” or even a laugh as quick as the quip itself, “Ha!”

The reason I mentioned these, it is worth knowing, is because they all have a pattern: more obviously, they are almost all doublets in syllable and word; and, understandably, all exclamations. But on the more inconspicuous side, these are all combinations with an and an a. 

The is the easiest sound to produce from the vocal cord (although some find it rather tricky at certain placements) and the a is the commonest vowel by preference. (Not by spelling, mind you: that crown belongs to the vowel e.)

In other words, when one laughs — a natural laughter being both unexpected and unplanned — the simplest and most preferred syllable comes out in repetition. But, while this may well be why “Ha ha!” (we will just refer to all versions using this single term) is an onomatopoeia, could the real origins on paper be the result of something else entirely?


Ha-ha in an English garden

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A bit about gardening

For any of us familiar with gardening (either because we have done it, or have read about it extensively) we will be familiar with the term ha-ha  in a completely different light.

I do not quite remember where I first read it, but the earliest I remember it is from my first reading of Mansfield Park in school, back in grade 7. There is a beautiful paragraph that goes thus:


“Prohibited! nonsense! I certainly can get out that way, and I will. Mr. Rushworth will be here in a moment you know—we shall not be out of sight.”

“Or if we are, Miss Price will be so good as to tell him, that he will find us near that knoll, the grove of oak on the knoll.”

Fanny, feeling all this to be wrong, could not help making an effort to prevent it. “You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram,” she cried, “you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes—you will tear your gown—you will be in danger of slipping into the ha-ha. You had better not go.”

Her cousin was safe on the other side, while these words were spoken, and smiling with all the good-humour of success, she said, “Thank you, my dear Fanny, but I and my gown are alive and well, and so good bye.”


(from Mansfield Park by Jane Austin)


Searching for those lines and typing them from my copy of the novel was testing, but those lines just want to make me read it all over again. What a beautiful work!


Haha is a French term meaning ‘a sunken fence.’ Now typical European estate owners believed in having an unobstructed view of their large lands. But stray (and tended) cattle were a great problem. So, while on the one hand they had to stop the cattle — and they could use a fence or compound wall — on the other hand, they hated to see these structures spoil the beauty of the estate.
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Structure of a ha-haHa-ha is a term in garden design that refers to a trench, one side of which is concealed from view, designed to allow an unobstructed view from a garden, pleasure ground, or park, while maintaining a physical barrier in one direction, usually to keep livestock out that are kept on an expansive estate or parcel.


As a solution to this problem gardeners often resorted to building dry moats with one perpendicular wall and one sloping wall so that the walls kept the cattle off the fields (they could not possibly cross it) and the ha-ha was hidden from sight when the land was viewed in-panorama.

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Quebec and the Rapa Nui

My favourite tribes have always been the Rapa Nui of Easter Island (their birdman cult, in particular) and those clumsily large island heads still fascinate me, but what I found interesting to note was that the Rapa Nui word for mouth is haha. That is some food for thought!

In French-speaking Quebec is a place called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! and the origin of this weird name is interesting as well. The more general meaning of the French word haha happens to be ‘a path with an abrupt end,’ and many believe that Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!’s  Lake Témiscouata is the Ha-ha the name refers to.

(My pity goes to every noble citizen of Saint-Lou… who has to write that long name every time he posts a letter.)

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In Conclusion

So as we take a look at all these pieces of information, we find ourselves coming round in a circle. There is the ha-ha in a garden, so called because a ‘Ha!’ is the first word you would say should you slip into one of them (or, to be more considerate, if you found one of them blocking your path.) Alternative expressions etymologists suggest are ‘Ah hah!’ or ‘Hah hah!’ — both of which we have previously covered as alternatives to the more standard “Ha ha!”

The idea of circling around is simply that it is certainly possible that the ha-ha got its name from the “Ha ha!” for this reason, because the expression would naturally predate the gardening technique known earliest since around the 18th century, or even various French toponyms, known earliest since 1686.

However, since modern English (whose written words and spellings were only established with Johnson’s, A Dictionary of the English Language, in 1755) came much later, it would be better, technically speaking, to presume the establishment of the phrase “Ha ha!” at a point in time after the mid 1700s, which would mean garden ha-has were in existence well over 150 years by then.

However, the entire issue is far from settled and — apart from the word’s origin being not half as funny as what the word itself stands for — perhaps this is one piece of history with no definite proof, but several plausible conjectures and what we believe in will have to be a matter of opinion to some extent.

So what do you think? Leave a comment and let us know!

[hr_top] [hr_padding] [notice type=”green”]Cover photo courtesy: Flickr/Swami Stream[/notice]

Telltale Pre-production Day 2: Screenplay Finalisation and Music Composition

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Update: Now you can listen to a quick preview of one of the Telltale background scores!

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This is part two of the reports on my second short film, ‘Telltale,’ inspired by Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart.’ Follow the link at the end to read the next/previous reports.

TODAY WE ENTER the final day of pre-production. With Raghul returning to shoot and the Telltale filming beginning tomorrow, I have taken it upon myself to have one last look at the script, and finalise that and the music composition (lietmotif only) for the film. Besides that, you can read more about test shots and sample editing below.

The screenplay

The screenplay I wrote for Telltale is actually one of my older older works — to some extent a spec script — that I merely tightened and shortened specifically for this project. The story is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart, a ghostly, horror-tale of how a murderer bends under the strain of his guilt and confesses to his crime before the police. For various reasons I have not adapted this work but written a story based on the same lines and hence given credit (which Poe rightly deserves) in the manner you have seen.

The script is highly symbolic, not pictorially, but more in terms of what the viewer hears, what the viewer sees and what the viewer assumes. This is where I was hesitant to tread on shaky grounds. While viewers of my last film caught onto the story with ease and caught on rightly (although I did get inputs of some who had not quite got the point) this time Telltale goes ahead to expect more on the viewers part.

I would hate to reveal the plot points right away, but I can state freely that the film relies heavily on good direction, camera movement, editing and — believe it or not– music. There were times when I thought I was putting too much strain on myself considering there is no assistant director, no specific cameraman, no separate editor or music composer; this was what happened with my previous film too, but since that panned our beautifully, I figured I would give this a go. Personally, I love music composition, so that is not a problem, and, although it would certainly help to have a hand on-board as crew, that is a little far of right now.

[pullquote_l]What came to me as a revelation was the use of rhythm in developing an overall structure in music. I just thought it was very interesting… How do you write a 30-second piece? Everything is extremely compressed.

— Phillip Glass


And this all adds up to clarify my original point: the screenplay this time has so many subtleties that I am sure not one viewer will get every single one of them. But that is where the fun lies, in everybody getting parts and in viewers getting together to add up their bits and pieces to paint a larger picture. Well, so much for the screenplay!

Voice, dialogue and editing

Annoy Me was a silent film that fared just as I had expected. But it is quite obvious not everybody has the class (yes, class,) or taste for silent films because they are so used to being spoon-fed that they hate to use their lovely little brains for an instant. I, for one, am against such straight-from-the-reel-into-my-head filmmaking; that is the rock bottom of filmmaking. In this regard I made certain that my screenplay got just the right amount of dialogue which viewers can hear while none of it gives away the plot straightforwardly. The point was to get the balance between telling and showing just right, and after several revisions I believe I have got it quite well.

The dialogues for Telltale will be voiced over the entire film, not as narrative but as —

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the protagonist reading his confession from a different timeline!

Anyway, there is no lip-syncing, and no trouble of on-location recording which, on the one hand, means the shooting becomes a tad easier, but on the other, means that the editing becomes a lot difficult what with multiple layers of sound (up to five) that need to be handled this time. (In contrast, Annoy Me had only two layers.)

I have also decided to try out a little colour-correction magic and fast paced editing in a couple of areas (mostly because it is a necessity, not just a vague fancy of mine.) If all goes well, the editing should stand out on its own, if not the direction and acting will surely keep the film together.

A few test shots I took turned out to be excellent, leaving very little work to be done on my side of the camera which means I can concentrate entirely on my actor. The digital editing also turned out fairly quicker this time as when compared to my last project (although I have not yet cut shots or combined them.) Either way, I have made sure that there is very little to mess up that cannot be undone at some point of time in the future!


Theme music and background score

THIS IS ARGUABLY the most awaited part for most of my readers on this website. As for others too, it may just prove to be very interesting!

The reason I say this is because of the emails I received over the weekend, after I had written my report of the first day of pre-production. I had not publicly written such reports for my last film so it was, understandably, a welcome piece of writing for most of you; especially to the ones who were interested in knowing what went on behind the scenes of my first film. While the emails consisted of things from screenplay queries to thoughts about the location, it was evident that almost all letters enquired of the music. If you will recall, I had released the theme score last time and it had received many positive thoughts.

For Telltale, however, I have decided not to release the music (it is meant to be a surprise) but, after giving some consideration to the matter, I have decided to release the notes of the leitmotif (see picture above!) If you cannot comprehend it, ask a friend who can and I am sure they will be more than happy to help you make sense of these weird markings.

Another interesting feature this time (except for the conjunction music which I will write only after the editing) is that there are two four-minute pieces of music (separate exclusive background score,) which means, on reel (and that is just a metaphor,) the music is actually longer than the visual. Needless to say, some of the music will be cut out and only that which is necessary to bring out the emotion will go on as part of the film (with repetitions, even more music will get cut out than you might imagine at first!) So I will certainly promise to release the entire soundtrack after the film is released.

So the big question is, what to expect from the music? In short it is semi-minimalist and semi heavy-bass so I would perhaps say, think Phillip Glass meets Hans Zimmer. But rest assured, the music is going to suit the film and its atmosphere just as well as the teaser poster (although it is till full MIDI.) I am also contemplating releasing a part of the background music (not the theme music, mind you!) here just to give you a taste of it. Let us see what time has in store…

On behalf of Raghul Selvam, I feel I must thank you for staying with us through pre-production and wish us luck as we head for the actual, powered-up filming come weather-friendly tomorrow!

Read the report of pre-production Day 1 (Location Scouting)

Telltale Pre-production Day 1: Location Scouting & Poster Release

YESTERDAY WAS DAY one of pre-production for my upcoming short film, Telltale. The story is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-tale Heart. It is the story of one man’s guilt and how it comes back to haunt him, but let us keep summaries and plot points for another day.

At regular intervals I will be posting updates here, small reports, on how our film is coming out, based on schedule, well ahead or a little late. Either way, I intend to make sure you get the news and stay with us right from pre-production (today) through production up to post-production!

Today my actor, Raghul Selvam — who you will know from Annoy Me — and I, went scouting for a suitable location for Telltale. Unfortunately, I did not find a place that translated exactly from my thoughts, but who does? The point of directing a film is to make it look on screen just like you thought about it in your head, and I am quite pleased with the outcome of Annoy Me.

With Telltale I decided to push the bar for myself: this time it is going to be different, not surreal but not simple either; not fast but not slow either; not straightforward but not conspicuous either; and lastly, definitely not entirely silent.

The point is to work smarter this time, building on all that I have learned in my previous venture; if my last film was good, to make this better; if people thought about my last film, to make them think harder about this one.

Lastly, I hope to make it through the end meticulously this time, get the shots near perfect and make my actor perform a hundred takes if necessary. After all, that is film psychology: the actor (and editor and cinematographer and best boy and musician — if they are part of the crew) want to give you their best performance; and you, as director, ought to direct them in the right path, help them give their best performance, bring out the best in them, and make the atmosphere comfortable for them to perform freely. Then again, this is probably only three-quarters of the way, the other quarter has to be filled in by the actors themselves.

Without further delay, here are the two locations I have finalised. There are a number of scattered spots around these locations where filming will take place, but these are the areas as you see them on the maps below.

Location 1: RR Nagar, Mysore, Karnataka, IndiaLocation 2: State Highway 33 - Mananthavadi Road, KA, India


ABOVE YOU SEE the teaser poster for Telltale. The poster was designed by me and is symbolic to the concept behind the film which will perhaps be apparent only after the film itself is released. Until then it would have served its purpose an fulfilled my intentions if it arouses curiosity in you!

It has already been released on Google+ and Raghul Selvam, who is in charge of online publicity on Facebook, will be releasing it there soon, so all of you on Facebook and not on Google+ will have to wait a few more days!

[NB The theme soundtrack for Telltale will not be pre-released. It will be first previewed only with the film itself.]

[hr_padding] Read the report of pre-production Day 2 (Screenplay and Music)

From Love to Bingo in 873 photographs: Getty Images

Patient research work involving more than 5 thousand photographs resulted in a minute-long film that AlmapBBDO created to advertise Getty Images, the world leading image database for creating and distributing visual contents. The film is surprising when showing 873 images in 15 images per second, sufficient speed to transform the series into a video that, without any text, tells a beautiful story. All photos, without any exceptions, are from the Getty Images archives.

[blockquote]The concept [is that] anybody is capable of telling any story they want only using their [Getty Images] archives[/blockquote]

Copywriter Sophie Schoenburg and art director Marcus Kotlhar worked 6 months researching images, improving the script and building each scene so they would not only be understood, but would also touch viewers. Sometimes, for example, a scene would look perfect on paper, but the images chosen to depict it were not sufficient or did not perfectly match up to offer the right movement and sense. And hence the research had to be restarted. The film was directed by Cisma, via Paranoid BR, along with Marcos Kotlhar, the art director at the agency.

For this creation team, the purpose was to adhere to the concept that Getty Images has so many images that anybody is capable of telling any story they want by only using their archives. In the film “Do amor ao Bingo em 873 images,” [From love to Bingo in 873 images], a storyteller in the corner of the screen describes the images used. The Getty Images logo appears at the end of the story, but the storyteller continues to turn until reaching the exact number of images in the Getty Images archive.

Credits — Film

Advertiser: Getty Images
Title: From love to bingo in 873 images
Product: Getty Images
General Creative Director: Marcello Serpa, Luiz Sanches
Creative Director: André Kassu, Marcos Medeiros, Renato Simões
Art Director: Marcos Kotlhar
Copywriter: Sophie Schoenburg
Producer: Paranoid BR
Executive producer: Egisto Betti
Direction: Cisma, Marcos Kotlhar
Animation: Split Filmes, Marcos Kotlhar
Rtvc: Vera Jacinto, Gabriel Dagostini, Diego Villas Bôas
Soundtrack / Voice-Over Artist: Kito Siqueira
Editor / Assembler: Marcos Kotlhar, Jonas Brandão
Finishing Editor: Split Filmes
Service: Cristina Chacon, Marina Leal
Media: Paulo Camossa Jr
Approval: Renata Simões