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Judging by cover

By Ian Nance - posted Monday, 29 December 2014

A common saying goes, "Don't judge a book by its cover".

This does not take in to account properly what we mean by 'judgment' which the Oxford dictionary defines as the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.

In making a conclusion about a person or other thing, we are influenced strongly by initial appearance, and this sets the scene for any suppositions we might make about their nature.


Take people, for instance. It is not unreasonable to be influenced by the first impression their appearance gives, and which often categorises them into a genre.

Superficial first appearances will very often be accepted unless there is the desire, motivation, or time to analyse that person more deeply. This could depend on whether they have fat, multi-jowelled faces, suggesting over-indulgence in food or lack of exercise (much in the manner of some female bureaucrats interviewed on television about health and its outcomes); whether they are males who sport dangling moustaches and droopy facial features which contribute to an appearance of sadness; whether they are people with bright sparkling eyes set in happy features, or those whose hairstyles tend to be a personal classifier particularly in the case of women.

They could be thin nervous people with darting eyes and a seeming lack of calm, or the opposite type, possessed of a steady visage and gentle movement; and a body language which reveals a great amount about that bearer, before he or she utters even one word.

Appearances apply to people who have a significant motivation for grooming and appearance, thus the wish to present a persona. This often extends to whether a person appears to be clumsy or competent, light or lazy, trim or turgid.

Speech will often be another revealer which helps to define the sort of person uttering the words; whether or not they speak clearly, quickly and incomprehensibly, the style of their speech, and whether they drop word endings or slur nasally-rendered vowels. Speech style can often be a reliable indicator of socio-economic status.

Of course, perceptions of appearance lie at the very heart of advertising with little time for rational thought. First impressions shape the product's impact, a true outcome of 'judging a book by its cover'.


Speaking of books, their appearance ranges from whether their covers are old and traditional-looking, or in modern, striking, newer presentations. This is applied product packaging which creates an impression, an image about the content, a justification for judging that particular book by its cover. A book cover's colour often relates to its content.

Serious works are generally displayed with covers in sombre shades, whereas sparkling comedy is often supported by a brightly coloured outer. The print style will often declare the content, with serious historical or political works captioned in bold serif fonts, and perhaps spooky dramas accompanied by a title printed with a ghostly or fuzzy edge. Book covers display their titles boldly.

Titles, or names, can do the same to people.

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About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

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