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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The main curved stroke of a lowercase or capital S.


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


Secondary school: themes « Art, techniques, expressions »

High school: themes « Art, sciences and techniques »


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

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Identify the various parts of a letter.