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What's the Difference Between a Font and a Typeface?

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What's the difference between a font and a typeface?

Martin Silverant:

A typeface is the collective name of a family of related fonts (such as Times New Roman), while fonts refer to the weights, widths, and styles that constitute a typeface (such as Times New Roman Regular, Italic, Bold, etc.). Not all typefaces consist of multiple fonts however.

Most people use the terms "font" and "typeface" interchangeably, and they are incorrect to do so. In most instances when people refer to fonts, they really mean typefaces. The confusion arose due to the prominence of digital fonts and naming conventions in operating systems, which refer to fonts rather than typefaces. Even type foundries tend to refer to themselves as font foundries rather than type foundries. As such there is a conflation of terms, where people think fonts are really digital typefaces, whereas typefaces are physical. Instead, the naming convention is the same for physical and digital typefaces; fonts refer to weights, widths and styles, and typefaces are the collective names of sets of related fonts.

Here are the naming conventions of fonts:

Weights: Hairline, Thin, Ultra Light, Extra Light, Light, Book, Regular/Roman, Medium, Semibold, Bold, Extra Bold, Ultra Bold, Black, Ultra Black.

Widths: Compressed, Condensed, Semi Condensed, Narrow, Normal, Extended, Extra Extended, Expanded.

Styles: Roman, Italic, Cursive, Oblique (a slanted roman), Small Caps (usually included as an OpenType feature rather than a digital font), Petite Caps (rare), Upright Italic (rare), Swash (usually an OpenType feature rather than a font).

Optical sizes: Caption, Text, Subhead, Display, Deck, Poster.

Grades: Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4 (subtly different weight to accommodate for different printing conditions).

Effects: Inline, Outline, Shadow, Fill, Bevel.

A typeface is sometimes referred to as a font family, and in CSS this terminology is used rather than typeface. There are also type families however, which are related typefaces, usually covering sans and serif, and sometimes slab serif or even a blackletter design. Examples of type families are:

The strange thing about widths is that they are often presented as distinct typefaces rather than fonts that are part of one typeface. This is because different widths are often later releases to the original cut. For the same reason sometimes optical sizes are introduced as separate typefaces as well.

Typefaces for languages that use different scripts than Latin (Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, Devanagari etc.) are referred to as typefaces rather than fonts.

Interestingly enough, historically, the distinction between typefaces and fonts was blurry in the first years of letterpress printing. Rather than a different style, italics were initially distinct typefaces used to set entire books in. These italics had upright roman capitals, as seen below in an italic type by Ludovico Arrighi, c. 1527.

It wasn’t until the middle of the 16th century that the popularity of italic type declined until italics fulfilled a secondary function of use for in-line citations, block quotes, preliminary text, emphasis, and abbreviations. It was then that italic types became fonts of typefaces rather than typefaces in their own right. Although, there is nothing against an italic type which features no other fonts to be referred to as a typeface.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Big Questions
Why Is Holly a Symbol of Christmas?
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Santa Claus. A big ol’ red-and-white stocking hung by the fire. Nativity scenes. Most classic Christmas imagery is pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s the holly, genus Ilex, which found its way onto holiday cards through a more circuitous route. 

Christmas is kind of the new kid on the block as far as holly symbolism is concerned. The hardy plant’s ability to stay vibrant through the winter made it a natural choice for pre-Christian winter festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia, celebrated at the darkest time of the year, celebrated the god of agriculture, creation, and time, and the transition into sunshine and spring. Roman citizens festooned their houses with garlands of evergreens and tied cheery holly clippings to the gifts they exchanged.

The Celtic peoples of ancient Gaul saw great magic in the holly’s bright "berries" (technically drupes) and shiny leaves. They wore holly wreaths and sprigs to many sacred rites and festivals and viewed it as a form of protection from evil spirits. 

Christianity’s spread through what is now Europe was slow and complicated. It was hardly a one-shot, all-or-nothing takeover; few people are eager to give up their way of life. Instead, missionaries in many areas had more luck blending their messages with existing local traditions and beliefs. Holly and decorated trees were used symbolically by new Christians, just as they’d been used in their pagan days.

Today, some people associate the holly bush not with the story of Jesus’s birth but with his death, comparing the plant’s prickly leaves to a crown of thorns and the berries to drops of blood. 

But most people just enjoy it because it’s cheerful, picturesque, and riotously alive at a time when the rest of the world seems to be still and asleep.

NOTE: Holly is as poisonous as it is pretty. Please keep it away from your kids and pets.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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