Anatomy of a letter

A typographic character is an "object" that is designed and built (see the other teaching guides on this site). A very rich vocabulary has been developed to describe the various parts of a letter. This guide offers only a few examples of the terms employed. Some – we don't know why – refer to the human body. Thus, we say that some letters have legs, eyes or shoulders. Other terms don't refer to the body at all. There's no logic to it, and the history and the origin of all of these terms has yet to be written.

Body

Originally the physical block on which each character was set. In digital type it is the imaginary area that encompasses each character in a font.

Ear

Typically found on the lower case ‘g’, an ear is a decorative flourish usually on the upper right side.

Leg

Short, descending portion of a letter. The lower, down sloping stroke of the K and k is called a leg.

Lobe

A rounded projecting stoke attached to the main structure of a letter.

Eye

Refers specifically to the enclosed space in a lowercase ‘e’.

Neck

The stroke, often curved, that connects the two parts of a double-storey ‘g’.

Tail

The descending, stroke on the letter ‘Q’, and the curved diagonal stroke on ‘K’ or ‘R’.

Shoulder

The curved stroke aiming downward from a stem. The curve at the beginning of a leg of a character, such as in an “m”.

Spine

The main curved stroke of a lowercase or capital S.

Arm

The horizontal stroke on some characters that does not connect to a stroke or stem at one or both ends. The top of the capital T and the horizontal strokes of the F and E are examples of arms.

Teaching guide n°4

LEVEL

Secondary school: themes « Art, techniques, expressions »

High school: themes « Art, sciences and techniques »

RELEVANT AREAS OF INSTRUCTION

French, history-geography, arts, physical sciences, technology, art history

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Activity

Identify the various parts of a letter.