Glossary of fonts

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Bad (ugly) handwriting. Bad spelling.

calendar figures
Figures originally cast in metal as blocks for use in calendars, usually surrounded by rules.

A design where the leters of a word of name are arranged to form a decoratvie pattern.

calligraphic display
An image-display device that produces images by directly creating lines, arcs, and so on, as opposed to a bitmap display. Also called a stroke display.

A hand lettering style that relies heavily on contrasting weights in the horizontal and vertical strokes. Generally done with a brush or quill pen.

A type design in which the characters are reversed out of a black background. Sometimes called reverse type.

cap and join
Cap options affect the ends of lines; join options affect the intersection of lines.

cap height
The distance from baseline to cap line of an alphabet, which is the approximate height of the uppercase letters. It is often less, but sometimes greater, than the height of the ascending lower case letters.


Capitals, or uppercase letters. ALL CAPS LOOKS LIKE THIS. Considered impolite in email, chat or web site layout (regarded as screaming aloud), and often the sign of amateur design. In English handwriting and print two kinds of letters are used: capitals (called majuscules) and small letters (called minuscules). A relatively modern innovation. The Romans, Greeks, and Oriental peoples never distinguished capitals from small letters. All these earlier languages used two forms — a carefully drawn form of writing with squarish and separate signs on official documents and monuments and a less carefully drawn form of cursive (running) writing with roundish and often joined signs on less official documents, such as letters. During the Middle Ages a form of capital letters called uncials was developed. Uncials (from a Latin word meaning “inch-high”) were squarish in shape, with rounded strokes. They were used in Western Europe in handwritten books, side by side with small-letter cursive writing, used in daily life. After the Renaissance and the introduction of printing in Europe, two types of letters were distinguished: the majuscules, which were formed in imitation of the ancient Latin characters, and the minuscules, which continued in the tradition of the medieval cursive writing. Another distinction in printing form developed at the time was between the upright characters of the roman type and the slanting characters of the italic type.

caret ˆ
(1) A symbol used to indicate the location of the radix point of a number.
(2) ˆ or >, used on a screen as a cursor to show where text should be inserted.
(3) Symbol for exponentiation in BASIC.

caroline or carolingian minuscule
A script developed in France during the 8th century, during the reign of Charlemagne, combining elements of cursive and half-uncial, distinguished by its roundness and clear readability.

An inverted circumflex. It is used on consonants and vowels in Slovak, Croation, Czech, Lapp, Lithuanian and other scripts. In romanized Chinese, it is used on vowels to reflect the retroflexive third tone (falling/rising tone) of the Mandarin dialect, and it is increasingly used in new script for Native American languages. For no apparent reason, ISO character sets include a prefabricated upper- and lowercase s and z, while other combinations, no less frequent in normal text, must be built with the floating accent. Typographers know the caron also by its Czech name, h·cek, pronounced “haa-check.”

In Renassance Europe, a scroll-like tablet with space for an inscriptionl in Egypt, an oval figure which enclosed the name of a royal or divine personage.

A wooden box with separate compartments to keep metal type characters — the origin of the terms “upper” and “lower” case.

A serif typeface designed by William Caslon.

cedilla ¸
The diacritical mark placed under the letter (as ç in French) to indicate an alteration or modification of its usual phonetic value (as in the French word façade).

cell text
A monospaced typeface, usually associated with older display devices.


Regular expressions and CFGs both define sets of strings of symbols (called “languages” in the theory literature). It turns out that every language that can be defined by a regular expression can also be derived by a CFG, but the converse is not true. That is, every regular expression may be converted (automatically, even) into an equivalent CFG, but there are some CFGs with no equivalent regular expression.

A class of italic letterforms, generally distinguished by lengthened and curved extenders. Many, but not all, chancery letterforms are also swash forms.

Any symbol, digit, letter, or punctuation mark stored or processed by computing equipment.

character generator
A circuit that forms the letters or numbers on a screen or printer.

character map
A grid of blocks on a display screen, where each block corresponds to a letter, number, punctuation mark, or special character.

character pitch
In a line of text, the number of characters per inch. See pitch.

character recognition
The technology of using machines to automatically identify human-readable symbols, most often alphanumeric characters, and then to express their identities in machine-readable codes. This operation of transforming numbers and letters into a form directly suitable for electronic data processing is an important method of introducing information into computing systems.

character set
Comprises the numbers, letters, and symbols associated with a given device or coding system. All of the characters recognized by a computer system. An ordered set of abstract symbols, used to represent and exchange information, in which a particular symbol is represented by its index.

Rectangular frame used to lock lines of metal type into position in letterpress use.

chi Χ χ
Third Letter of the Greek Alphabet. The font Symbol most often used on American Computers to Type Cyrillic Letters places it in ASCII 67, the space for capital C.


A typeface, notable only for it’s use as the font built into the memory of Apple Macs and used for text throughout the operating system. Specially commissioned by Apple, it existed only as a series of bitmaps created by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes.

A document or letter written and signed in one’s own hand.

chromatic aberration
An aberration in an optical system that causes light of different colors to be focused in different planes.

A unit of measure equal to 12 Didot points. This is the continental counterpart to the British and America pica, but the cicero is slightly larger than the pica. It is equivalent to 4.52mm or 0.178 inch.

circumflex ˆ
A mark orginally used in Greek over long vowls to indicate a rising-falling tone and in other languages to mark length, contraction, or a particular voewl quality.

Letterforms having vertical axis, adnate serifs, teardrop terminals and moderate aperture. Originated in the 18th century.

1) Replacing the information in a register, storage location, or storage unit with zeros or blanks. (2) Erasing displayed text and/or graphic images from a display screen.

An early form of the book, hwere often several different writings would be bound together between wooden boards. (From Latin caudex, meaning “tree trunk.”)

colon :
A grammatical marker inherited from the Medieval European scribes. It is also used in mathematics to indicate ratios and in linguistics as a mark of prolongation. The name is from Greek. In classical rhetoric, a prosody, a colon (plural, cola) is a long clause, and a comma is a short one.

Originally the individualized device of an early printer; now usually a note at the end of a book with facts about its production.


The darkness of the type as set in mass, which is not the same as the weight of the face itself. The spacing of words and letters, the leading of lines, and the incidence of capitals, not to mention the color (i.e. darkness) of the ink and of the paper its printed on, all affect the color of the type.

comma ,
A grammatical marker descended from early scribal practice. In German, and often in Eastern European languages, the comma is used as an open quote. Throughout Europe, it is also used as a decimal point, where most North Americans expect a period. And in North American usage, the comma separates thousands, while a space is preferred in Europe. Thus 10,000,000 = 10 000 000, but a number such as 10,001 is typographically ambiguous. In Europe it means ten and one one-thousandth; in North America, ten thousand and one.

composite characters
Characters such as Aring and Eacute, which are constructed from two separate and free standing typographic symbols.

compound document
A document that contains, in addition to text, graphics, images, or other non-textual components.

The length of line required to set the alphabet of small, or lowercase, pica letters is 13 ems. If this alphabet takes less than 13 ems, it is said to be a condensed face.

condensed type
Type that is narrow in width proportionate to its height.

conditional paging
A word processing feature that causes printing to begin on the next page if a specified block of text will not fit completely within the remaining space on a page.

Appropriateness of the relationship between letter-style and content.

conic spline
A spline curve of order two.

In letterforms, the degree of contrast between the thick strokes and the thin strokes of a given letter. In faces such as Gill Sans and Helvetica, there is no contrast. In Neoclassical and Romantic faces such as Bell and Bodoni, the contrast is high.

control point

see BCP

In font design, the coordinate of a point along a character in the font’s path is described in terms of its relative relationship to the baseline and leftmost point of origin.

The process of adjusting the size and spacing of type to make it fit within a defined area of the page.

copyright ©
Right or protection granted by law to author or publisher for exclusive publication, distribution and sale of a work. As a symbol, on poorly designed fonts, the copyright symbol sometimes appears as a superscript, but its rightful place in typography is on the baseline.

corner point
An empty point. A point with no curve information.

Another term for serif, esp. on stone-cut letters.

The white space enclosed by a letterform, whether wholly enclosed, as in d or o, or partially, as in c or m.

A monospaced typeface derived from typewriter styles. Used to simulate this effect. A font of choice for typesetting computer programs and coding.

Term coined by Xerox to define a model of creating documents, distributing them to various locations and then printing. A new idea after the traditional Create-print-distribute. More recently referred to as Print On Demand.


The gradual movement of page margins in a book layout. The width of the paper stack causes their edges to stagger (which is trimmed later) and shifts the margins as well. To keep the final margins consistent, margins on each page in the layout are shifted slightly to compensate. A professional page layout software program usually has a scripted feature that automatically calculates the creep and shifts the content when compiling pages into a pre-press book format (like Adobe PageMaker).

A horizontal stroke crossing a vertical stroke.

A title or subhead centered over the text. (compare sidehead)

cubic spline
A spline curve of order three.

currency symbols
Standard ISO character sets include five real currency signs $ ¢ £ ƒ ¥ €. The dollar sign ($), is descended from an old symbol for the shilling and is often used for currencies with many other names: sol, peso, escudo, yuan, etc. The cent sign (¢), is no longer used in American typography. The pound sign (£) stands for the Latin libra (hence the abbreviation lb.). The sign for Dutch guilders (ƒ), comes from florin, an old name for the currency. The last symbol was often a place-holder in many fonts where a local currency symbol could be added and is now the symbol for the Euro, the new currency for Europe. According the the official euro web site, the symbol “was inspired by the Greek letter epsilon, in reference to the cradle of European civilization and to the first letter of the word ‘Europe’ . The parallel lines represent the stability of the euro. The official abbreviation for the euro is ‘EUR’ .”

Any script in which words are written without raising the pen between letters; a running hand. (In German, kursiv means “italic.”)

cursive flowing
Often used as a synonym for italic.

see arc

cyrillic script
The base alphabet of Slavic languages, adapted from 9th and 10th century Greek uncials; modern Russian is Cyrillic modified during the time of Peter the Great.

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