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ISO: Source of A Beatrice Warde Quote

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I am a professor of English and scholar of 20th-Century drama, and am currently writing on Tristan Tzara’s typographical “Dance” interpellated into his play  The Gas Heart (1923). In reading Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1964), I’ve found a potentially useful quotation attributed to Beatrice Warde, which McLuhan cites only as having come from a work called ALPHABET. The quotation—famous and often re-quoted, citing McLuhan, begins: “Do you wonder that I was late for the theatre that night when I tell you I saw two club-footed Egyptian A’s … walking off arm-in-arm with the unmistakable swagger of a music hall comedy team?” I believe Warde’s insights can shed light on Tzara’s work.  

McLuhan, sadly, does not include Warde’s work in his bibliography for Understanding Media, and online sources quoting Warde’s passage cite McLuhan. I wonder if you could inform me of the source of this quotation, including the full bibliographic information for the work from which it is supposed to have been drawn? Research databases to which my university library subscribes do not list a work by Beatrice Ward titled “Alphabet.” It is, perhaps, a journal title, but even so, I find no results using electronic resources.  Thank you,

Craig N. Owens, PhD
Professor of English
Drake University


  1. I don’t have the citation for you, but I have some further suggestions for seeking the source. Could it be that Beatrice Warde was writing as Paul Beaujon when this was written? She began to publish under this pen name in 1926 in the British journal, The Fleuron.

    Please also refer to her book The Crystal Goblet; Sixteen Essays on Typography, New York: The World Publishing Company, 1956. While the index may not help you as there is only one citation for the word “Egyptian,” there is a bibliography of her essays and speeches writing as both Warde and Beaujon.

    Finally, I have searched our extensive library on typographic history and have found no periodical titled Alphabet. There are titles with Alphabet but they are combined with another word like Alphabet and Image. I think you can stop searching for that to materialize. I think it may be the title of an essay, but finding that has been elusive as well.

    I hope this was helpful. Looking forward to your results.
    Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection

  2. Thank you for helping narrow down my ongoing research; I’ll let you know what, if anything, I discover.–CNO

  3. Warde, Beatrice. 1964. “Twinkle in Andromeda”. Alphabeth: International Annual of Letterforms, vol. 1 [the only ever published], pp. 78–83. Edited by R.S. Hutchings and published by James Moran Ltd for The Kynoch Press, Birmingham.

    The quotation appears on p. 82.

    Ole Lund, Department of Design, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

  4. Sorry about the typo: Alphabet, not Alphabeth . . .

  5. To understand Warde’s quote, one needs to know what an Egyptian A looks like. Egyptian is a 19th century style of type with heavy block letters and unbracketed square serifs. It is surprising that Warde in 1964 would refer to such an outmoded type; however, my 1963 Stephenson Blake catalogue shows that that firm continued to offer it. An Egyptian A could very well look club-footed.

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