Things that work best when you don't notice them

Fonts, translations, and programming languages have one thing in common: they work best when you don’t notice them.

If someone says “Hey, look at this cool font I just found!” you probably wouldn’t want to read a book set in that font. At least to an untrained eye, a great font will not stand out in a list of small samples. You have to see large blocks of text set in a font to appreciate it. Even then, most people will not consciously appreciate a very readable font.

Translations are similar. If you find yourself saying “What an interesting translation!” then the translator has probably fallen down on the job. A good translation is neither archaic nor trendy. It does not draw attention to itself but allows you to focus on the original content. I believe the English Standard Version achieves that with Bible translation.

Python is like a good font or a good translation. For years I’d look into Python briefly when someone would recommend it. I’d thumb through a Python book, but it all looked rather plain. Only later did I come to appreciate that the beauty of Python is that it is rather plain. It doesn’t call attention to itself. It just gets out of your way and lets you write programs. It seems to me that compared to other programming language communities, the Python community brags less about their language per se and more about what they’re able to do with it.

4 thoughts on “Things that work best when you don't notice them

  1. That’s a great recommendation for Python!

    Lots of things are like this of course but one which has stuck in my mind is driving. When I took Driver’s Ed. they mentioned that if your passengers don’t notice your driving or better yet, fall asleep, it is a good sign.

    Another is the wait staff at restaurants. There was only one time that I can recall that I was amazed after the fact that I barely noticed the wait staff, but it was quite something. It was at a really high end restaurant and they had a team of waiters for each table, with one waiter in charge of the team. That head waiter must have been lurking out of sight directing things behind the scenes because stuff just magically seemed to appear at the exact right moment. I don’t recall my water glass being refilled but it must have been, several times. It was ungodly expensive though.

  2. I always found this quote entertaining, if not exactly true:
    “Translations are like women. When they are pretty, chances are they won’t be very faithful.” — Steven Seymour, interpreter

  3. John,
    I agree with you about the ESV translation. I’ve just been reading through the book of Job (which is hard to understand at the best of times) but I think I’ve got more from it when reading the ESV than I did from reading the Authorised Version.

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