A glossary of typographic terms
Agate—1. Originally, an English typeface whose body size was 5.5 points. 2. A 5.5-point type used primarily in newspaper advertising. 3. A unit of the same measure used to measure depth in newspaper advertising.
Alphabet —A set of letters in which a language is written.
Ampersand (&) —The symbol for “and.” A contraction of “and per se and.” It derives its form or shape from the Latin word et, meaning “and.”
Arm —A horizontal extension from the vertical stem of an E, F, L, and T.
Antiqua —A German type classification. Font styles other than the blackletter.
Ascender —The portion of a letter that extends above the body or x-height of a lowercase letter, as in b, d, f, k, l, and t.
Ballot box —An outline square. For use primarily as a device in which to indicate a preference. Also used in place of a center dot or square dot.
Bar —The horizontal stroke on the A, H, and lowercase e.
Baseline — Horizontal base alignment of capital letters and non-descending lowercase letters.
Beard —1. The bottom sloping edge of handset type between the face baseline and the shoulder. A projection on the bottom right stem of the capital G.
Beak —The triangular shape usually found on the s, z, C, E, F, L, T, and Z.
Biform —Same-height caps and lowercase without ascenders or descenders.
Blackletter —A flat-sided and pointed letter used in the medieval period. Sometimes called lettre de forme, textura, or fraktur. Type used in the Gutenberg Bible.
Bodoni dash —A horizontal swelled stroke tapering to hair-lines at both ends. Used to denote an ending and sometimes to separate different items of copy.
Body matter —The text of an ad or other copy, also known as body copy, body text, or reading matter.
Boldface —1. A heavy-weight typeface. 2. In machine type some fonts contain the regular letter and either the boldface or italic companion on the same matrix, called duplex.
Bowl —An enclosed projection of a letter, either rounded or flat, as in B, D, P, R, a, b, d, g, p, and q.
Brackets —1. The filled-in area that connects the serif to a stroke on capital and lowercase letters. Also called fillet. 2. ( [ ] ) Brackets are used to enclose a phrase within a parenthesis.
Branch —The curved stroke that connects to the stem on lowercase letters such as h,m,n, and u.
Calligraphic type —Type that derives its form from letters written with a brush, quill, flat pen, or a chisel instrument held at a slight angle from the horizontal.
Cap height —Exclusive of accent marks, the vertical measurement of caps. In many Oldstyle fonts, the caps are not as tall as the ascenders. The caps and ascenders of most Modern fonts are the same height.
Caps and small caps —1. Origin-ally, two different sizes of capitals cast on the same-size type body. 2. Caps set with small caps that are same size as the lowercase body.
Center dot (·) —Also called a bullet (but bullets are usually larger), and usually round, a dot that centers vertically on the x-height of the lowercase. Primarily used to set apart phrases or listings. The weight used is usually balanced to the weight of the type.
Chancery script —A style of writing developed by papal scribes in the fifteenth century, and the model for many early italic types.
Character —Any letter, figure, punctuation, mark, symbol, or space.
Cipher—The figure 0 (zero).
Civilité—A French Gothic cursive type of the sixteenth century, based on the handwriting of Robert Granjon. Zapf Civilité is an example.
Color spacing —The addition of space to congested areas of words or word spacing to achieve a more pleasing appearance after a line has been set normally. Color also refers to the length of the ascenders and descenders. If they are long, the color of a page will be lighter than if they are short.
Column gutter —The space between two columns of type.
Condensed type —Type that is compressed horizontally—Em pire, Onyx, Tower, Helvetica Condensed, Franklin Gothic Condensed, etc.
Counter—1. The enclosed bowl or interior spaces of letters: a, b, d, g, o, p, q, A, B, D, O, P, Q, R. 2. The area, including the shoulder, surrounding a letter, figure, punctuation mark, or symbol in metal type below the face or printing surface.
Crossbar—The horizontal stroke on the f and t. Also cross stroke.
Cupped—1. Refers to slightly arched serifs, to the top of the lowercase t, and sometimes to the top of the cap A. 2. A design feature in some sans serif stems; Optima is typical.
Cursive—(L.) Literally, running: possessing a flowing quality. Formal scripts are cursive. The fifteenth-century chancery hand is described as cursive.
Curved stem —The heavy portion of curved letters, either serif or sans serif.
Dagger(†) —1. A mark used for a reference. Also called diesis. 2. Symbol meaning “deceased.”
Descender— The portion of a lowercase letter that descends below the baseline, as in g, j, p, q, and y. In some Oldstyle fonts, the cap J descends.
Diagonal hairline —The thin portions of the A, K, M,V, W, X, Y, k, v, w, x, and y.
Didoni—A hand-lettered style that combines Didot and Bodoni. See Didone in “Type Classification.”
Diphthong ligature —Two vowels joined together; for example, æ.
Display faces —Type used for headings and titles and generally larger than 14-point, as opposed to text faces, and often spaced tightly for visual impact.
Ear —The projection from the right-hand side of the g’s bowl.
Egyptian types — Originally, from 1815 on, bold faces with heavy slab or square serifs (though Caslon drew a sans serif in the eighteenth century that he named Egyptian). Lighter versions are Beton, Cairo, Clarendon, Egyptian expanded, Fortune, Graph, Stymie, Memphis, and Rockwell.
Em —The square of any point size of type. Three-em and four-em spaces or 1/3 and 1/4 of an em are commonly used as word spacing.
En —Half the width of any point size of type.
Extended type —Typefaces whose proportions are wide horizontally, such as Egyptian expanded, Hellenic, Latin wide, Microgramma extended, Standard extended, Univers 53 and 63.
Eye —Enclosed portion of an e.
Extrema points —Points placed at outermost edges of curved shapes in font drawing programs to render small screen fonts more accurately.
Face —1. Any style of type. 2. In letterpress, that portion of type that creates the printed impression.
Fat faces —An extremely bold and often extended type style from the late nineteenth century, based on the modern forms of Bodoni and Didot. Normandia and Thorowgood are examples.
Figures —Numbers or numerals.
Fleurons — Ornaments often resembling flowers or leaves. Also called flowers.
Flush left — Copy that is aligned vertically on the left-hand side.
Flush right— Copy that aligns vertically on the right-hand side.
Folio —A page number. Left-hand pages are even numbered, right-hand pages are odd numbered.
Font —The complete set of characters, figures, punctuation marks, and symbols of a typeface.
Foot —1. In some faces, the horizontal serif or stroke at the bottom of the lowercase a and t.
Grotesque —From grottesca, or grotto, and the primitive drawings found there. European for sans serif (often round faces, i.e., Helvetica normal).
Gothic —1. A widely accepted name for sans serif faces—Helvetica, Futura, News Gothic, etc. 2. More traditionally, the German blackletter and Old English, such as Goudy Text, Engraver’s Old English, American Text, etc.
Glyph —The font style of any symbol or character. For example, the letter g is the character, and a Garamond g is a glyph shape.
Hairline —1. The thin portion of a two-weight roman letter. 2. A 1/4-point or thinner rule. 3. Small pieces of metal (sometimes called fins) that appear between letters when matrices on metal line-casting machines become worn.
Head —A line or lines of copy set in a larger face than body copy. Short for headline or heading.
Leader — Line of dots or dashes to connect copy.
Leading —The vertical space between lines of type. Also called line spacing.
Ligature —Two or more connected letters: ff, fi, fl, ffl. Formerly, in metal type, the same letters cast on one piece of metal (see also Logotype).
Logotype —1. An identifying name. 2. A symbol or mark. 3. Separate letters cast on one piece of metal to avoid open letterspacing—TA, TO, VA, WE, and QU.
Loop —The lower portion of the lowercase g in most serifed faces and in some sans serif faces.
Majuscule — Capital letter.
Masthead —The name of a periodical; also staff credits of the publication.
Minuscule —Lowercase letter.
Modern —Type that originated in the late eighteenth century, characterized by vertical stress and extreme contrast between the thick-and-thin strokes. Serifs are usually horizontal and mostly unbracketed. Examples are Bodoni, Corvinus, De Vinne, Didot, Torino.
Modern-style figures —Figures that are the same size as the caps (in many faces) and align at the top as well as with the baseline: 1234567890. Also called lining.
Oblique —A slanted letter of the same form as the roman version, for example, Bookman, Cairo, and often sans serifs such as Futura and Helvetica.
Ogee curve —A reverse curve. Found on the tail or loop of the g, and the spine of the s, S, and sometimes on the tail of the cap R and some swash caps, and in many italic forms.
Oldstyle —Letters with slight differentiation between the thick and thin strokes. The rounded forms possess a diagonal axis. Examples are Berkeley, Caslon, Centaur, Garamond, Janson, Kennerly. Generally, based on sixteenth-century Italian forms.
Oldstyle figures —Forms derived from the Hindi and Arabic alphabets: 1234567890. The 1, 2, and 0 are the same height as the lowercase body. The 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 align with the x-height and descend below the baseline. The 6 and 8 align with the baseline and ascend above the x-height. (Bodoni Oldstyle does not follow this pattern exactly.)
Pica —1. A measuring unit of type equal to 12 points. Approximately one-sixth of an inch. 2. A typewriter face size with ten characters to the inch. 3. A 12-point English typeface.
Point —A measurement used for type sizes and letterspacing and line leading. There are twelve points to a pica, and six picas to the inch, or seventy-two points to the inch.
Pothook —Initial curved hooks on some lowercase italic faces, such as Baskerville, Torino, Century expanded.
Proportion —The width-to-height ratio of any given typeface.
Return stroke —Left-hand side of the g’s loop (typ.).
Rivers —Word spaces that create irregular vertical lines of white space in body type. These occur when lines of type have been set with excessive word spacing, with little or no hyphenation in justified copy.
Roman —1. A letter modeled after the letterforms of classic Rome. 2. An upright letter, as opposed to a slanted one.
Rule —Lines in varying point-size thicknesses. Used for borders and also to separate copy blocks or columns.
Run-in —Heads usually set in a different style from the text, which follows on the same line.
Sans serif—Letters without serifs. Commonly called sans or Gothics.
Script — Connected letters, resembling pen handwriting that may be upright or slanted to the left or right. Some classifications include separated letters.
Serif —A short line stemming from the upper and lower ends of the stems of a letter.
Set —The width of all characters or individual letters of a given font. Used for copyfitting.
Shoulder —1. The top left or right side of a round letterform. 2. In metal type, the counter beneath a descender that prevents the descenders of a line of type from touching the ascenders of the following line when the lines have been set solid (that is, with no leading).
Single-story — Describes the a in most italics, opposed to a two-story a. Many sans serifs have both a one-story roman and italic a. See Erbar, Futura, Kabel, Metro, and Tempo.
Small caps — Capitals, usually the same height as the x-height of the lowercase and drawn in a wider proportion and a weight to match the lowercase. Most PostScript fonts include small caps as well as fractions, fleurons, and odd characters in “expert” sets.
Solid —Lines of type set with no line leading. Also called unleaded.
Sort —1. An individual piece of type, whence the expression “out of sorts.” 2. A special character or symbol not usually included in a font.
Spine —Reverse curve of the S.
Spur —The triangular extension at the top of the beaks of some serif letters, as in s, C, G, S, and sometimes T and Z.
Square spot —( _) A solid square, used in place of a center dot as an accent or lead-in to paragraphs or listings, usually drawn to align with the x-height.
Stem —A letter’s vertical, diagonal, or curved weighted stroke.
Stroke (stem) —The lines of a letter, horizontal, vertical, curved, diagonal, thick, or thin.
Subhead —A secondary heading or display line(s) of lesser importance than the main headline(s).
Superscript —Small raised figures or letters in type, used for reference, such as footnotes, or mathematical and chemical symbols.
Swash letters — Capitals or lowercase letters, roman or italic, embellished with flourishes, often ending with a teardrop or circular shape based on the forms of the early sixteenth-century writing masters Arrighi, Palatino, and Tagliente. Jan van Krimpen’s Cancelleresca Bastarda is an example.
Swelled stroke —The reverse curve of the righthand side of the italic h, m, n, u, sometimes v, w, and y. Also, the script versions of these letters.
Tail —The curved stroke at the bottom of the lowercase a and t. Also, the curved or horizontal stroke at the bottom of the Q and the diagonal stroke attached to the bowl of the cap R.
Terminals —In most serifed faces, the circular, teardrop, or wedge-shaped endings occurring on the lowercase letters a, c, f, j, r, and y, and on swash extensions of some capitals, mostly italic.
Thins —The thin portions of a letter, also called hairlines.
Titling faces — Fonts of capital letters without a corresponding lowercase, which occupy almost the full point size (minus the shoulder) of the type. Examples are Adobe Original Garamond Titling, Perpetua Titling, Michelangelo Titling, Microgramma, Trajan, Bauer Text.
Transitional —Letters with greater contrast between thick and thin strokes than in Oldstyle. Curved forms usually possess a vertical axis. In classification, the style is regarded as a transition from Garalde to Didone. Some examples are Baskerville, Bulmer, Caledonia.
Triangular serifs — Serifs found on the lowercase ascenders and tops of the straight stems of many Oldstyle fonts. Sometimes called oblique.
Two-story —Lowercase a with a small bowl, opposed to a single-story a whose bowl occupies the full x-height.
Type —A letter or character, originally in bas-relief, from which an inked impression is made.
Type 1 Fonts—Adobe Systems encrypted fonts with “hinting” for printing small sizes of type on low-resolution printers.
Typeface —Type of a single design, regardless of size. Also called type. In letterpress, its printing surface.
Type family —A group of typefaces of the same design but with different weights and proportions. Examples are Bodoni, Century, Helvetica, Futura, Univers.
Type series —A range of sizes of one typeface, usually from 4- to 650-point in computer fonts.
Uncial—Lettering style based on letters freely written with a quill or flat pen in the fourth to eighth centuries. Early uncial capitals sometimes assumed the shape of lowercase letters and served as a basis for our present lowercase alphabet.
Vertical serif —The serif found on the center arm of E and lower arm of F.
Waist—The narrow part of K, or the convergence of the Y’s diagonals.
Weight—The thickness of a letter’s stem, characterized as light, extra light, regular, medium, demi-bold, bold, extra-bold, and ultra bold.
Weighted diagonal —The thick strokes of the letters A, K, M, N, R, V, W, X, Y, Z, k, v, w, x, y, and z.
Widow—An undesirably short line, word, or part of a word that occurs at the top of a page or column, called an orphan when it occurs at the bottom of a page or column.
x-height—The height of the lowercase x. Sometimes called body height.