Sunday, 16 April 2017


Trying out different fonts recently I admit before long I was bemused by the vast array now available. Their names, too, are rather confusing but clearly will have little etymological value as, in the main they have been created comparatively recently.

Yet I did think it might be a nice idea to find the origins of the words now used for fonts and typefaces. What follows is but a selection. Antique - is first used in English around the start of the 16th century and first seen as an adjective. It comes to us through a Latin line and ultimately comes from two Proto-Indo-European words anti 'before' and okw 'appearance'.

Baskerville - one of the few named as a typeface, this created around 1750 and named for British type-founder and printer John Baskerville (1706-75). He was not the inspiration for the famous story by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Bembo - named and first used in 1930 and based on a 15th century typeface by Aldus Manutius when printing a work penned by the Venetian scholar, poet, cardinal and member of the Knights Hospitallier, Pietro Bembo (1470-1547).

Bauhaus - a German word meaning literally 'architecture house' and a reference to the school of design founded in Weimar by Walter Gropius in 1919.

Bodoni - based on and named after Italian printer Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813), the modern version is a composite of his many forms.

Cascade - a word coming to English from Latin cascata 'waterfall' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kad 'fall, lay out'. Note the use as a verb began in 1702 and used to refer to 'vomit'.

Clarendon - named after the Clarendon press at Oxford University, set up 1713 in the Clarendon Building and named for the Chancellor Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon.

Doric - an architectural style and an adjective derived from Dorian, itself the Greek meaning 'of Doris' a district in central Greece and itself named for Doros the legendary ancestor of the Dorians. The name Doros comes from Proto-Indo-European do 'to give'.

Garamond - named in 1780 after French type-founder Claude Garamond (1510-61). His work saw him producing the punches used to make the type.

Goudy - named in 1917 after the typographer Fredeic W. Goudy (1865-1947). This Chicago man, a realtor his entire working life, and by his own admittance a very poor realtor, changed direction at the age of 40 and left his name in a family of typefaces featuring no less than 113 different styles.

Hanseatic - takes the name of the federation of German towns, the Hanseatic League, of the 17th century. It derives it name from the Middle Low German for 'merchants' guild'.

Korinna - is a Greek word meaning 'maiden'.

Melior - is a Latin word meaning 'better' and comes from Proto-Indo-European mel 'strong, great, numerous'.

Quorum - is Latin and means 'of whom'.

Roman - clearly named for the upright style of lettering, but of greater interest is the French word roman which means 'novel'.

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