Like most good ideas, this one was born in a pub when the topic of gangster euphemisms came up. There’s some classics, for example if you’ve had someone knocked off (killed for money for the rookies out there) then you can say “that horse has been scratched from the race”. After reading about Kerning (which is the process of adjusting the spacing between letters), I came across a word that is rarely used in Typography anymore, Mortising (which is old-fashioned way of saying kerning). A couple of beers later and some healthy banter about the best way to dispose of a body, I came up with the following glossary of Typography words that really, really sound like death threats…along with their not so thrilling actual meanings.
Actual glossary meaning: Black Letter refers to the entire field of calligraphy style fonts. Image “Old English” or “Gothic” styles, they were used to set the very first printed Bible.
Actual glossary meaning: This is the font point size measured from the highest ascender (such as “b”, “d”, “f”) to the lowest descender.
Actual glossary meaning: Kerning is the process and art of adjusting the spacing between characters so it is designed to typographic perfection.
Actual glossary meaning: Dot matrix printers made Condensed fonts incredibly popular, Condensed typefaces are those with an aspect ratio where the characters are narrower, and take less space on the line. Therefore, more can appear on the same line.
Actual glossary meaning: This is the upper-reaching part of characters such as “b”, “d”, “f”, the taller tree-tops of the set.
Actual glossary meaning: The imagined line that goes on top of all capital letters to help with designing fonts. If this isn’t a gun reference I don’t know what is.
Actual glossary meaning: Ligated fonts draw on the way handwriting letters are connected. Some characters are the result of combining two characters. For instance, when A and E are ligated, it produces the ligature Æ. It also sounds like a form of torture that came before being drawn and quartered.
Actual glossary meaning: An oversized capital letter used as the start of a paragraph. Drop cap ornamented initials are a stapple of ancient manuscripts and older books, particularly musical scores from the Medieval period. I’m pretty sure this is just flat out a gun reference.
Actual glossary meaning: Back in the letterpress era, most typesetting was done by hand with individual characters formed out of metal. They were arranged to make a page, called a forme before a print impression being made on paper.
Actual glossary meaning: A type face which adds more weight and is darker, it makes everything sound like Christopher Walken is talking inside your head.
Actual glossary meaning: Hardly used, it’s another word for Kerning. Interestingly mortising machines carve negative space into timber, so you can see how they relate to the printing press.
This glossary was helpfully assisted by The Font Menu.
[Header image: "Typesetting-The Number 2" by Mary Ellen Garcia]