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Dec 10 / Marta Puskarz

My Typographic Lexicon/Glossary

Over the course of the semester, I’ve gathered many definitions/terms related to typography. Since this is the end of the term, I am posting them all here 🙂 They are all taken from either the fontshop glossary, Ellen Lupton’s “Thinking with Type”, or class notes. Enjoy!


Font- A collection of letters, numbers, punctuation, and other symbols used to set text (or related) matter. Although font and typeface are often used interchangeably, font refers to the physical embodiment (whether it’s a case of metal pieces or a computer file) while typeface refers to the design (the way it looks). A font is what you use, and a typeface is what you see.

Typeface- An artistic interpretation, or design, of a collection of alphanumeric symbols. A typeface may include letters, numerals, punctuation, various symbols, and more — often for multiple languages. A typeface is usually grouped together in a family containing individual fonts for italic, bold, condensed, and other variations of the primary design. Even though its original meaning is one single style of a type design, the term is now also commonly used to describe a type family (usually only with the basic styles regular, italic, bold, bold italic).

Glyph- Every character in a typeface, (e.g: G, $, ?, and 7), is represented by a glyph. One single type design may contain more than one glyph for each character. These are usually referred to as alternates.

Postscript- A technology developed and trade marked by Adobe Systems, Inc. On older systems, PostScript fonts require Adobe Type Manager. On the Mac, PostScript fonts consist of a printer font and a bitmap suitcase, which should always be kept together.

Open type- The most recent font format emerged at the beginning of the new millennium. OpenType was initially developed by Microsoft, which were later joined by Adobe. In a few years time it has become the new standard format for digital fonts. The biggest advantages shared by all OpenType fonts are their single file structure, cross-platform compatibility, and advanced typographic functionality. This means any single OpenType font file will work on both Mac and Windows systems, and some OpenType fonts include expanded character sets and special features like automatic ligatures and alternate glyphs. OpenType is the best format for most purposes. It comes in PostScript flavor (OTF) and TrueType flavor (TTF).

Connotation- an idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning.

Denotation- the literal or primary meaning of a word, in contrast to the feelings or ideas that the word suggests.

Type family- Also known as family. The collection of faces that were designed together and intended to be used together. For example, the Garamond font family consists of roman and italic styles, as well as regular, semi-bold, and bold weights. Each of the style and weight combinations is called a face.

Modern type- is a style of typeface developed in the late 18th century that continued through much of the 19th century. Characterized by high contrast between thick and thin strokes and flat, hairline serifs, Modern fonts are harder to read than previous and later typestyles developed for text.

Transitional type- The primary characteristics of Transitional type is medium contrast between thick and thin strokes, less left-inclined axis than Old Style faces (closer to vertical), and a triangular or flat tip where diagonal strokes meet (such as the base of a W).

Humanist type- the primary characteristics of humanist type include: sloping crossbar on the lowercase e, relatively small x-height, low contrast between thick and thin strokes, dark color in terms of darkness of the page

Slab serif- A Slab Serif is a type of serif font that evolved from the Modern style. The serifs are square and larger, bolder than serifs of previous typestyles.

Sans serif- A type face that does not have serifs. Generally a low-contrast design. Sans serif faces lend a clean, simple appearance to documents.

Ligature- Special characters that are actually two letters combined into one. In cases where two adjacent characters would normally bump into each other, a ligature allows the letters to flow together more gracefully. This usually makes word shapes more aesthetically pleasing. Some common ligatures are ‘fi’, ‘fl’, ‘ff’, ‘ffl’, etc.

Kerning- Kerning refers to the horizontal space between individual pairs of letters (a kerning pair), and is used to correct spacing problems in specific letter combinations like “VA”. Well-spaced fonts need comparatively less kerning pairs. Fonts that are properly kerned appear evenly spaced without large open gaps of white space between any two characters.

Leading- Its original meaning is increasing the vertical space between lines of metal type by literally inserting lead strips. In the digital age it now means the vertical space between lines of text, from baseline to baseline. Also known as linespacing.

Small caps- Small caps are capital letters that are approximately as high as the x-height of the lowercase letters. When properly designed small caps are absent in the selected font, many applications can create small caps by scaling down the capitals. However this makes these fake small caps too light and narrow, and they don’t harmonize properly with the lowercase. Originally small caps were only available for the roman text weight(s), but nowadays many type families also have them for the italic styles and the bolder weights.