Friday, 2 January 2015

Typefaces and Fonts

Somewhere in his vast book, Proust says that the French call everything English by the one name that the English don’t use. That semi-literate bunch of money-grubbing nerds Microsoft does something similar: they take a word, often a technical term, misunderstand it, and insist on using it in the misunderstood sense. Nobody takes them to task, because Microsoft rules the world and to disagree with them is to risk their getting into your computer and deleting all the pirated software and naughty pictures, so pretty soon everyone (except me) is using the word in the misunderstood sense.

The default ‘Font’ in Microsoft Word is Times New Roman. But this is not in fact a font, it is a typeface. What is the difference? Well, I can’t easily show you, because I usually write my blog posts in Microsoft Word, then copy them into the blog, whereupon, whatever font/typeface I’ve written them in, they revert to some Google default. I can however tell you: a typeface is a particular design of letters and other characters, and can be thought of as a family of fonts. Palatino, for instance, is a typeface, and ‘Palatino 12 point normal’, say, or ‘Palatino 16 point bold’ or ‘Palatino 10 point Italic’ are fonts within that typeface family. So when Microsoft (and so just about everybody else) talks of ‘The Palatino font’ or ‘The Times New Roman font’ they are talking through their reversed baseball caps. Don’t do the same, O.K.?

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