Glossary of fonts

M / 3 One-third of an em: i.e. 4pt in 12pt type; 8pt in 24pt type. majuscule

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M / 3
One-third of an em: i.e. 4pt in 12pt type; 8pt in 24pt type.

Archaic term for an uppercase letter, see also minuscule

Meaning “written by hand.” A composition or copy of a book that is written (not printed). Current meaning includes typewritten drafts. Abbreviated ms., or plural mss..

Notes and nonessential items appearing in the margins of books.

The blank areas beyond the edges of the type page.

The mold used to cast a letter of type in hot-metal composition. pl. matrices

An imaginary line that establishes the height of the body of lowercase letters.

The standard length of the line; i.e. column width or width of the overall typeblock, usually measured in picas.

A general term to describe the pre-carolingian hands of France.

mid space
A space measuring M/4, a fourth of an em.


Whether written by hand or set into type, the Latin lower case alphabet implies an invisible staff consisting of at least four lines: topline, midline, baseline and beardline. The topline is the line reached by ascenders in letters like b, d, h, k, l. The midline marks the top of letters like a, c, e, m, x, and the top of the torso of letters like b, d, h. The baseline is the line on which all these letters rest. The beardline is the line reached by descenders in letters like p and q.

Originally, one who painted with minimum (red lead); an artist who lilluminates a manuscript.

Red oxide of lead; a red pigment commonly used in medieval illumination; vermilion.

Archaic term for a lowercase letter, see also majuscule.

Assisting, or intended to assist memory; the earliest stage in the development of writing, where devices such as notced sticks and knotted cords served as memory aids.

model book
An exemplar book, with or without instructions, for mansucript illumination; used for copying for “mass produced” handwritten books.

Modern type style
A typeface style distinguishable by their sudden-onset vertical stress and strong contrast. Modern serifs and horizontals are very thin, almost hairlines. Although they are very striking, these typefaces are sometimes criticized as cold or harsh, and may not be quite as readable for very extensive text work, such as books.

A number of designers, perhaps semi-independently, created the first modern typefaces in the late 1700s and early 1800s. One of the first, and ultimately the most influential, was Giambattista Bodoni, of Parma, Italy. Ironically, historians of type often relate the development of the “modern” letterforms to a then-current obsession with things Roman — in this case the strong contrast and sharp serifs of classical Roman inscriptions. Although similar interests.

Today, the most common “modern” typefaces are the dozens of reinterpretations of Bodoni’s work (which itself evolved over time). One of the most successful reinterpretations is the 1994 ITC Bodoni by Stone et. al., featuring three different optical sizes. Although little is seen of Didot, a reinterpretation by J.E. Walbaum (ca. 1800) sees occasional use.

In relation to typography, modulation means the usually cyclical and predictable variation in width of the stroke. In unmodulated letterforms, such as Helvetica, the stroke is always fundamentally the same width. In a Renaissance face such as Bembo or Garamond, the stroke is based on the trace of a broad nib pen, which makes thin cross strokes and thicker pull strokes. When letters are written with such an instrument, modulation automatically occurs.

An optical illusion, perceived as flickering, that sometimes occurs when you place high-contrast line patterns (such as cross-hatching in pie graphs) too close to one another.

Shortest, but not necessarily simplest type of letter combination where two or more letters are combined into a single sign or cipher.

A term to describe letters of consistent width lines. The Tekton font is a good example.

A monospaced font is suitable for typesetting computer programs since each character has precisely the same width — allowing that successive rows of glyphs sit directly below related rows. Courier is an example however there are nicer looking monospace fonts than Courier (which has oversize serifs), that still remain distinct from the text fonts like Times and Helvetica. A good one is OCR-B, designed by Adrian Frutiger as a monospaced version of his Univers more legible to OCR devices. It is clunky but ubiquitous. Note that monospaced fonts are less economical on space than proportional fonts.

movable type
Individual letters cast on independent metal bodies, for assembly into blocks for printing. Invented by Gutenberg in 1454.

mu Μ μ

Thirteenth Letter of the Greek Alphabet. The font Symbol most often used on American Computers to Type Cyrillic Letters places it in ASCII 77, the space for capital “M”. It looks exactly like a capital “M”. the lowercase mu looks mush like a lowercase “u” with a flaring descender from the left limb.

Multiple Master
Fonts that are “scalable” in other senses than just point size. Various ones made by Adobe include such scalable characteristics (design axes) as stroke weight (light to extra black), extension (narrow to extended), optical weight (to accomodate point-size specific styling), and style (serif to sans serif). Support for MM fonts is one of the distinguishing features began with v.3 of ATM.

An em. Also called quad.

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