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Talk About Type with These Helpful Terms

Most of us know whether we like — or hate — a font, but we don’t know why. Could it be those curly things on the ends? What about the way it leans, or whether the edges are rounded or sharp?

When it comes to typography, most folks can’t tell an arc from an arm. Which is just fine — after all, most of us don’t spend more than five minutes in a lifetime picking out fonts.

But if you’re picking out new typefaces for your brand, you’re going to be spending a lot more than five minutes looking at them. What’s more, you’re going to need to talk about them, and it helps to actually have a common language for what you and your team are looking at.


That’s why I was glad to come across this infographic A-Z of typography terms from Fontsmith — and not just for clients. I’ve been designing using type for a decade now and found this to be a nice refresher. I even found a few gems I’d completely forgotten or never even knew, like:

  • Not just for photography: aperture can also refer to the opening of a partially enclosed counter shape, such as a C.
  • Eek! The curvy embellishment in a ligature connecting two letters is called a gadzook.
  • The German name for the semibold or medium weight in a type family is called a halbfett. Literally, half fat.
  • Junior high boys rejoice — the dot over the lowercase i and j is called a tittle.

But while the above might make you popular at trivia night, the infographic also features extremely useful everyday terms for describing type. You probably already know those “curly” things on the ends of some fonts are serifs, but did you know the top edge where two strokes meet is called an apex, or that type leaning at a slant is said to be oblique? These things can be useful when describing the typefaces you’re looking at, and can help inform you on whether or not they’re suited to your brand.

We spend so much of our lives reading type. Whether consciously or not, it helps inform us on how we feel about a subject. So go on, get acquainted with stems, swashes, spines, and spurs — from the foot to the beak.

What’s your favorite typography term?

(click to see it bigger or download)


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