On fillers and dingbats


‘Fun facts I’ve gleaned from newspapers read aloud’

Who knew so many people keep chickens? Dude Man has a pal named Andy who has chickens. He’s always begging us to take some eggs, but we turn him down because with no little kids we could dye Easter eggs with (for example) the two of us don’t really go through that many eggs. Besides, Dude’s cousin’s son’s fiancee just gave us a dozen from her chickens.

My Favorite Sister gets ready to use up some eggs. Too bad she doesn’t live close enough to get regifted some Andy Eggs. (And for other purposes)

Our recent eggs-plosion prompted The Dude to ask just how long eggs keep. (I think he was wondering if we could reasonably accept Andy’s offer.) I didn’t know exactly, but I told him that I’d read somewhere that you can tell how fresh an egg is by putting it in water and seeing if it floats. Apparently, the older an egg is the more air it has inside it. Old eggs float.

You can also tell if an egg is raw or cooked by spinning it around. Raw eggs wobble; cooked ones don’t.

Frittata. It’s what’s for dinner. Sometimes, but not often enough to justify egg gifts

Both of these fun facts were things I learned from “fillers.” See, back when newspaper pages were set in lead type, more often than not the pages would come out uneven. There would be a little gap at the bottom that would need to be filled so that the page could print. (If you left the gap, all the type on that page would fall out; not a happy outcome.)

So the typesetters had a stock batch of what they called “fillers,” which were little bits of oddball news (“Man with no teeth shoots family when served pork chops”) or stray information (“How to tell if an egg is fresh.”) They’d stick in a filler, et voila! The page could print.

[Sometimes, if the space was sparse, they’d stick in a dingbat. Which, originally, was a little bit of decorative type. These days “dingbat” means something incomprehensible (to me, anyway) about coding.]

Youngest Younger Brother Doug searches the paper for upside-down dingbats

Well, fillers, like lead type, have gone the way of the dodo. Heck, lots of people don’t even bother with newspapers-on-paper anymore, opting to consume news electronically. What do they put in the bottoms of their birdcages? How do they send a dead fish as a warning to a rival mobster? Inquiring minds want to know.

But back to my egg-fact filler. I fudged a bit earlier when I said that I’d read that fun fact about fresh vs. rottenness, egg-wise. More likely, it was read to me by my mother.

See, my mother (pictured at top devouring a newspaper while lying on a couch in a ski lodge) is The World’s Most Avid Newspaper Reader. She will read every newspaper she can get her hands on, from big-city dailies to small-town weeklies to those free shopping circulars that stuff up your mailbox.

Mom consuming media the good ole Midcentury Modern Way. (No, that’s not a cigarette she’s holding. At least I don’t think so)

And she doesn’t just read those newspapers — she reads the interesting bits aloud to one and sundry, usually while consuming copious quantities of coffee. (Swedes are the World’s Highest Consumers of Coffee; not sure where they rank, newspaper-reading-aloud-wise, though my late lamented Mother-In-Law, she of the Stuffed Peppers With No Peppers, also read the paper out loud. And no, she was not Swedish.)

I used to find this habit somewhat annoying. Not super annoying, like gum-chewing. More annoying along the lines of tuneless humming or singing popular songs with the wrong lyrics. But in these pandemic times, I would give anything to be sitting at a kitchen table listening to my Mom warble “On Top of Spaghetti, All Covered With Cheese.”

Or read aloud a filler about old eggs. 

Missing you, Mom. Hope you had an Easter filled with fresh eggs and even fresher newspapers

Amagansett, New York. April 2021







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6 thoughts on “On fillers and dingbats

  1. Nancy

    Another great one!!! I am one of those people who loves to read interesting newspaper articles out loud. Unfortunately for me, no one in my immediate family is inclined to listen:-( Hey, your frittata looks delish. Recipe please! xoxo

    • Ah, Nancy. The dirty little secret about reading newspaper articles out loud is that no one listens (!) Well, except if you’re my Mom and you’re reading within hearing of a nine-year-old (me). As for the frittata — thanks! It was delish. No recipe, tho. I just take whatever leftovers I have on hand, heat them in a skillet with a little oil and/or butter (so they don’t stick), beat a couple of eggs with a fork and some salt and pepper, pour the eggs over the vegetables, sprinkle cheese on top, then lower the heat, cover the pan with (ideally) a glass lid. (So you can watch for doneness without peeking) It’s done when the top no longer jiggles or is firm to the touch. Presto! Also good cold the next day. Mangia!

  2. Roy Edroso

    I hadn’t thought about fillers in years! I guess the equivalent now is “look at this cute walrus-and-capybara video from Twitter.”

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