Opinion Other fonts I hope the State Department considered

(Washington Post Staff illustration)
4 min

Well, the State Department’s recent decision to change its standard communique typeface from Times New Roman has caused quite a meltdown — or, as I like to call it, a font-do.

However, I’m sure the State Department carefully considered many options before making the switch. Calibri won on the grounds of accessibility, with the hope that a sans serif typeface would be more broadly legible. Here are some of the other fonts — and the messages their selection would have sent — that I hope the department considered.

Wingdings: Wingdings is great if you want to take a lot of very controversial foreign policy steps without anyone noticing what you are doing. You can literally declare war on another country and they will be like, “Aw, the State Department sent me a series of urgent-looking smiley faces for no reason.” Think of how much embarrassment we would have saved ourselves had all communication to Denmark regarding purchasing Greenland been entirely illegible!

Papyrus: A great way to make all your diplomatic announcements feel as though they are centering exercises at a wellness retreat where there are a lot of little pots of bamboo and salt lamps. How could you not assent to a treaty in such a zen setting? Also useful if we ever get into some kind of diplomatic scrape with the “Avatar” franchise planet of Pandora.

Guest Opinion: In bad taste or not, I’ll keep my Comic Sans

Comic Sans: Lots of people have rightly pointed out that Comic Sans is unjustly maligned. It is a perfectly good font for some occasions! I cannot think of any better one for a Christmas letter of unexpected length, or a self-published collection of children’s verse, or a clown’s business card. Not all fonts are for all purposes! But one purpose Comic Sans would definitely be bad for is diplomatic communiques: “Will you be our trading partner? Y/N Circle one :)”

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Impact: This is not a message from the United States. This is a message from an angry homemade T-shirt, or an anonymous note stuffed in your mailbox warning that your dog barks too much at night. Yes, if the United States ever wants to go to war with a dad holding a fish whose grainy image has been printed on a white crew neck, this is the typeface for that.

COPPERPLATE GOTHIC: WHEN YOU WANT TO BE YELLING ALL THE TIME EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NOT YELLING. Teddy “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” Roosevelt would have hated this font.

Edwardian Script: This would suffuse all U.S. diplomatic communiques with a sense of longing and repression: “I await your white paper most ardently. A paper white as your spotless gloves, whose touch I still recollect, when, in the rain, my finger brushed yours for one forbidden moment. I cannot now think of rain without recalling you to mind.” Really, its filigree is so exquisite you almost feel you don’t need to read the communications at all! All well and good until you actually get a magnifying glass and discover you have started World War I because someone has insulted your uncle the Kaiser, and your alliances got too complicated because you were so excited about sending beautifully calligraphed notes to all the European capitals that you got a little carried away.

This designer made Comic Sans, the Internet’s most hated font, cool again

Jokerman: A bonus feature of this font is that it feels like an invitation to an arts-and-crafts party! Instead of a long communique exhaustively explaining the geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea, what about a sip-and-paint watercolor evoking them?

Courier New: It was good enough for the Zimmerman Telegram, wasn’t it?

Hypothetical Triple-Serif Font: If sans serif fonts exist, mustn’t all those serifs go somewhere? Each letter burdened with dozens of castoff serifs, this font is almost entirely unreadable, looking as though the message has fought its way through a thick mass of brambles to arrive. Excellent for sensitive communications, so long as the recipient has the appropriate cipher to de-serif.

Calibri: Is it the case that someone put a lot of effort into finding this font, a typeface so accessible and legible that it merited a change to State Department policy? Or did someone put in the minimum effort possible and send a communique in the default font suggested by Microsoft Word, and that person is now trying to cover their tracks? Y/N Circle one :)