This is a three part series on how to talk about letterforms. Basically, it’s a glossary. This first part deals with the Anatomy of Letterforms, what the pieces and parts are called. Part 2 covers Process, the terms for the ways letters are made, whether by hand or by computer. Part 3 is Categorization, the ways groups of glyphs are labeled by form and function.
This is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good working terminology for anyone creating with letters.
(It is my intent to add to this gloassary over time, so that eventually it may be more comprehensive.)
Diacritic—an ancillary mark or sign added to a letter. Accents are a type of diacritic used with the Latin alphabet to denote a specific pronunciation. Other writing systems may use diacritics to indicate sounds beyond the basic alphabet.
Gadzook—a decorative detail connecting the letters in a ligature but is not a stroke essential to either letter.
Glyph—a unique drawing of a character or characters as a single unit. (For instance, a single character may have more than one glyph, like the y’s above. Or there may be multiple characters in a single glyph, as in a ligature.)
Ink trap—additional space added where two strokes form an acute angle, done to avoid ink build-up in that spot when the character is printed. It’s a space designed to literally trap excess ink.
Lowercase—the smaller form of the bicameral Latin alphabet based on the Carolingian minuscule.
Neck—also known as a collar or link, the stroke that connects the top and bottom portions of a lowercase ‘g’.
Overshoot—portion of a letter pushing just beyond a line of measurement to achieve the appearance of being the same height as comparable letters.
Petit caps—uppercase letters sized the same as the x-height of the lowercase. Used in conjunction with lowercase they can form a unicase font: a font with all letterforms the same height.
Point size—distance from the descender line to the ascender line or top of the tallest diacritic. (This is mostly true of metal or wood type. Digital type size is arbitrary, at the whim of the designer. It is based purely on what percentage of the height of the imaginary digital box a designer wishes to make the glyphs. One font’s 12pt may be larger than another font’s 12pt.)