Terms and Definitions - a Cheat Sheet - Help/Insight

Amy HoodAmy Hood Posts: 22
edited October 2022 in Technique and Theory
Hey everyone, 

Long time listener, first time caller. 

My studio and I are trying to get better with our typographic terminology so we can critique and discuss our work clearly, instead of saying "that curvy bit." So we made a cheat sheet for ourselves (see below). I primarily used Karen Cheng's Designing Type and Stephen Cole's Geometry of Type books for reference, also looking to monotype's page. But I am finding that there's a bit of variation in what people call things. Also not much info on script/cursive specific terms.

So maybe the question's not "is this diagram right?" but more "Is it not wrong?" Open to  

Thanks in advance! Have learned so much from all the threads in here.


P.S. I hope I'm not repeating any discussion threads (dug around and didn't find anything)


  • Very nice. I love the looks.

    You're right; much typography terminology is a bit fluid and can differ from place to place and person to person. However, I don't see any glaring errors or omissions. Good job!

    I recently put together something similar on my website, but it's not nearly as nice-looking or efficient as your "cheat sheet."
  • It has maybe a minor error or two (in my opinion) but actually pretty darn good as such things go. Many of these diagrams have more things I find questionable.

    I wouldn’t call the diagonal of the “v” an “arm” (I reservt that for diagonals that spring off of vertical strokes or some sort of body, although still in an upwards direction). The “arm” definition claims it is a horizontal stroke without mentioning diagonals at all. And the diagram also calls the top of the “7” an arm, which is… interesting.

  • Looks good Amy! Make sure you give Ken Barber's House Lettering Manual a look through as a good double check.
  • @Cory Maylett your page is so handy! I like how the elements are highlighted. Super easy to understand. 
  • @Thomas Phinney Good note on the v (that was one I was waffling on based off of a few references). Would you refer to the top of the 7 as a flag instead or is that just reserved for the 5? 
  • @Mark Simonson I waffled back and forth on that so many times! I think you're right on that. 
  • @Stuart Sandler Lettering Manual is one of my faves! Will definitely check against that one more time. 
  • I would probably just call it the top horizontal stroke on the 7. I mean, it is pretty structural, whereas a “flag” seems more like an adornment to me—and I might wonder if by “flag” the writer means the cross-stroke seen in some French 7’s.

    I would love to hear if anybody thinks there is a standard term here!

    Mind you, there is a difference between “this is already common accepted usage” and “hey, let’s call it this.” Nothing wrong with doing the latter and standardizing a term for yourselves, even if no broadly accepted standard has really existed before.
  • The main use of "flag" in my experience is the stroke at the top of a figure one.
  • I’d say that “terminal” and “finial” are synonyms – for where strokes are terminated or finished – with the former being more common. “Stroke ending” is another, plainer term. The captions suggest that these are always serifless, but there are also serifed terminals, slab-serif terminals, ball terminals, etc. In architecture, a finial is typically decorated.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    edited October 2022
    Very good!

    I use a slightly different terminology in places, but one doesn’t have to be single-minded.
    The only error is in calling the lowest sharp point a vertex, which usually means the same as apex. Nadir means the lowest point, although it is not an accepted typographic term AFAIK—but I can’t think of another word as specific.

    (Ditto with flip the arrows.)
  • What’s funny is that there are two definitions for vertex: one as a top point. But the GEOMETRY definition is that it is where where two or more bits join, the corner of a polygon or n-dimensional thing. I take type design as being more closely aligned with geometry than anything else, and have always used vertex as meaning any point where two or more strokes join, not necessarily at the top.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    Don’t you think the top and bottom sharp thingies should have consistent terminology? If the top is a colloquial apex, then surely the bottom should be a colloquial nadir, rather than using a strictly geometric term which also describes the top? If the bottom point is going to be named a vertex, then presumably the top should also be so named.
  • I think of both tops and bottoms as vertices, and the tops alone are apices.

    But yeah, nadir works reasonably well (except for its negative connotations)
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,654
    edited October 2022
    Also, "numeral" is fine, but type designers usually call them figures. And the part of the "p" you marked "lobe" is usually called a bowl. (I don't think I've ever seen it called "lobe" before.)
  • Amy HoodAmy Hood Posts: 22
    edited October 2022
    @Mark Simonson more good notes! Will adjust accordingly. 
    Re: "flag" I had seen the top bar of the 5 called a flag in Karen Cheng's book. 
  • @Thomas Phinney good ole "stroke" does suit! As much as possible I prefer not to over-complicate, so the fewer terms (that are correct, of course) the better in my mind. Will update that.
  • Amy HoodAmy Hood Posts: 22
    edited October 2022
    Great notes, @Florian Hardwig! Appreciate it and adjusting accordingly. 

    For the "tail" of the a, would you also say that should be called a terminal for a more broad term?
  • Thanks for feedback @Nick Shinn! "Apex" and "vertex" were one of the terms that differed across the books I referenced. Stephen Coles referenced apex for both and Karen Cheng used apex and vertex.
  • For the "tail" of the a, would you also say that should be called a terminal for a more broad term?

    The tail is *a* specific sort of terminal, and having a dedicated term for it is useful.

  • Also, "numeral" is fine, but type designers usually call them figures.

    That’s certainly correct. I advocate the use of “numeral”. “Figure” has the downside of being ambiguous. Not only can it stand for both numeral and number. In the context of design and publishing, it’s also used for an illustration or chart. This may lead to confusion, certainly with beginners.

    Side note: in traditional German type lingo, Figuren is the term for any glyph; numeric, alphabetic, or otherwise. A glyph set used to be called a Figurenverzeichnis.

  • Amy Hood said:

    Re: "flag" I had seen the top bar of the 5 called a flag in Karen Cheng's book. 
    I find ‘flag’ for the top parts of 5 and 7 totally out of place, never heard it called that. In German we call these Querbalken – horizontal beam. So even just ‘beam’ would make sense for such parts (also for F, T, Ζ, Ξ, Γ…) in relation to ‘stem’ for vertical elements.

  • … ‘Superscript’: your example on (with understroke) I would call a logotype, that is a whole word made as one single lead type or glyph. Typical use case: catchwords and frequent conjunctions like of and The
    A superscript character is a single character, downscaled and raised, like in  1º piano –  n²

  • @Andreas Stötzner good note on superscript! Thanks
  • I'd be more inclined to call the top of a T a "crossbar" than an "arm." The Latin letters with arms for me are EFKk (never quite sure about L!), maybe r.
  • Cory MaylettCory Maylett Posts: 245
    edited October 2022
    Mentioning superscript might suggest the need to mention subscript, too — for example, H₂O.

    Seriously, though, you could expand and modify your cheat sheet ad infinitum. As with most things (graphic and typeface design included), at some point, one just needs to say, "Good enough. I'm finished."
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    edited October 2022
    Also, "numeral" is fine, but type designers usually call them figures. 
    Let’s respect the typographic subtleties, the grace notes that add complexity and historical depth to our discipline. Nobody says “old style numerals”— old style figures are a special nuance of typography, along with small caps, and the old name deserves to be preserved, along with the old style.

    At least in English, Florian!
  • Some time ago, I seem to recall Nick Sherman suggesting that numbers be referred to as “numerals” rather than figures. That was a good idea, as even in English a figure can be a thing that is not a number. I think that we can live in a world in which all numbers are numerals but some numerals are also oldstyle figures.

    At least in English, Nick!
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,145
    edited October 2022
    That figures, Dan.

    There is a lot of redundancy in English terms.
    Oldstyle figures are also known as ranging and non-lining.

    I could go along with “oldstyle numerals”, with the double-iamb meter of “oldstyle figures” maintained, tripping off the tongue as “old-style new-mrls”, which has a paradoxical frisson. 
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