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.)
Aperture—a not entirely closed, somewhat rounded space within a character (such as in ‘c’).
Apex—the topmost intersection where two strokes terminate.
Arc—a curved portion of a stroke.
Axis—the imaginary line bisecting the upper- and lowermost points where a stroke becomes thinnest.
Bowl—the curved part of a letter surrounding a counter.
Crossbar—a horizontal stroke bridging two other strokes.
Crotch—the inner angle where two strokes connect.
Diacritic—an ancilliary mark or sign added to a letter. Accents are a type of diacritic used with the Latin alphabet to denote a specific pronounciation. Other writing systems may use diacritics to indicate sounds beyond the basic alphabet.
Digraph—two characters that make a single sound.
Ear—that funny bit on the top right of a double story ‘g’.
Finial—the tapered terminal of a curved stroke.
Flag—the topmost horizontal stroke of the number ‘5’.
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.)
Leg—the short, often diagonal, downstroke of letters like ‘R’, ‘K’ and ‘k’, typically resting on the baseline.
Lobe—a curved or rounded projection from the stem or main portion of the letter.
Overshoot—portion of a letter pushing just beyond a line of measurement to achieve the appearance of being the same height as comparable letters.
Sans serif—without serifs.
Serif—a small stroke added to the end of a main stroke.
Shoulder—the curve at the beginning of a downward stroke, such as in ‘m’, ‘n’, or ‘h’.
Spine—the primary curved stroke of the letter ‘S’ or ‘s’.
Spur—a small protrusion off a main stroke.
Stroke—a line forming part of a written or printed character.
Tail—the descending, often decorative, stroke of the ‘Q’, and sometimes ‘R’ or ‘K’.
Terminal—the end of a stroke.
- Abrupt—the stroke ends without taper or embellishment.
- Ball—the stroke finishes with a circular shape.
- Calligraphic—the stroke finish gives a strong indication of the shape of the writing instrument used to form the letter.
- Foxtail—the end of the stoke widens before curving around and ending in a point, similar to the shape of a fox’s tail.
- Teardrop—the stroke finishes in a teardrop shape.
- Wedge—the stroke has a serif-like wedge added to it.
Tittle—the dot on the ‘i’ or ‘j’.
Vertex—the bottommost intersection where two strokes terminate.