True to type: how we fell in love with our letters
From easyJet to Facebook, road signs to clothing labels, we are surrounded by a world of type. But what messages do its different kinds convey? In this extract from his new book, Just My Type, Simon Garfield looks at the history of typefaces, the obsessive care taken over their design – and the role they play in shaping our lives
Fonts were once known as founts. Fonts and founts weren't the same as typefaces, and typefaces weren't the same as type. In Europe the transition from fount to font was essentially complete by the 1970s, a grudging acceptance of the Americanisation of the word. ...
In the days when type was set by hand, a font was a complete set of letters of a typeface in one particular size and style – every different a, b and c in upper and lower case, each pound or dollar sign and punctuation mark. There would be many duplicates, the exact amount dependent on their common usage, but always more Es than Js. The word is derived from "fund", the fund (amount) of type from which the letters are selected. These days a font refers simply to a particular typeface, which may have 10 or 20 fonts, each weight and style on the page a little different. But in common parlance we use font and typeface interchangeably, and there are worse sins.