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13 type typography terms you need to know

13 Type Terms You Need To Know (But Probably Don’t)

Typography has its own unique lexicon filled with strange-sounding terms and confusing distinctions. While you may be familiar with basics like “baseline” and “x-height”, terms like “gadzook”, “quaint”, and “tittle” may be new to your vocabulary.

So without further ado, here are 13 typography terms you probably don’t know (but should!).

1.  BodyBody Typography Terms

The term “body” originally referred to the physical block of character – the one used to physically print ink onto paper. Nowadays, “body” simply refers to the imaginary, invisible area that surrounds each glyph.

2.  LigatureLigature Typography Terms

Have you ever seen one of those weird characters that looks like two letters morphed into one? These characters are connected by something called a ligature.

Ligatures allow for greater flow and readability and are more visually pleasing. They’re not very common in the 21st century, but they appear frequently in older printed publications.

3.  GadzookGadzook Typography Terms

A gadzook is the connecting piece that attaches two characters together in a ligature. It’s not originally part of either letter – it only exists in a ligature.

4.  QuaintQuaint Typography Terms

A quaint is an antiquated glyph or character embellishment that aims to recall the typographic preferences and tendencies of decades and centuries past. It doesn’t serve a purpose, aside from looking pretty.

5.  DiacriticsDiacritics Typography Terms

Diacritics are any ancillary mark or design added to a letter, such as an accent.

6.  Pica & Point

A pica is a typographic unit of measure. It corresponds to 1/72nd of a foot, or 1/6th of an inch, and it contains 12 points. A computer pica is the standard unit of measure in contemporary printing.

A point is another typographic unit of measure. It corresponds to 1/12th of a pica, or roughly 1 pixel on a computer screen set to 100% zoom. Points help us determine font size (technically called “point size”).

7.  ContextualContextual Typography Terms

Ever see your word processor turn 3/4 into ¾? That’s because your typeface includes contextual features.

Contextual features occur in OpenType fonts. These features understand the context in which they are used, and will automatically insert or substitute new or alternate glyphs when appropriate.

8.  KerningKerning Typography Terms

Kerning refers to the horizontal space between specific letters. It’s an important aspect of graphic design because it plays a pivotal role in readability.

9.  TrackingTracking Typography Terms

Tracking also refers to the horizontal space between characters, but it’s not to be confused with kerning. When you make a tracking change, it alters the space between all characters, whereas kerning only affects the horizontal spacing between two adjacent characters.

10.  MonospacedMonospaced Typography Terms

Monospaced typefaces are designed so that every character occupies the same width, regardless of normal proportions. For example, an “m”, which is typically a wide character, will occupy the same width as the letter “i”, which is typically a narrow character.

11. ProportionalProportional Typography Terms

In contrast to monospaced typefaces, proportional typefaces feature characters that are designed to respect normal proportions. For example, in a proportional typeface, “m” will be wider than “i”.

12.  SwashSwash Typography Terms

A swash is any elegant extension on a letterform. Like quaints, swashes are purely aesthetic.

13.  TittleTittle Typography Terms

You know that little dot on your “i’s” and “j’s”? Well, they have an official, technical name, and that name is “tittle”. Who knew?

Type Terminology

Like any field, typography is full of strange terminology and odd names for things you never thought deserved or needed their own label. Learning professional jargon is never fun (though names like “tittle” certainly make it a little easier), but it’s helpful to understand lexical minutiae when working with typefaces.

For more information on the components of a letter, check out our blog post on the Anatomy of a Letter.

Type Glossary“. Typography Deconstructed. 2010.
Glossary“. FontShop. 2015.

Steph Schinkel
Steph Schinkel

Steph is an avid crafter, DIY enthusiast, and regular contributor to The Paper who loves to handmake all of her cards. Above all else, Steph is a die-hard foodie with a massive sweet tooth and a deep, soul-consuming love for chocolate.