Typesetting. A once tactile craft – heavy, concrete, time-consuming and relentlessly unforgiving. A now digital craft – flexible, instantaneous and infinitely adjustable. A craft with terminology so automatically engrained, we often neglect to explore the origins ...
The word font dates back to the late 16th century, coming from the French word fondre, meaning 'to melt' (as the metal used to create type had to be melted and then cast).
Leading, the space between horizontal lines of type, refers to the thin strips of lead that were used to separate these lines.
Kerning, the act of adjusting the space between letters, comes from the French word carne, meaning corner (and this from the Latin word cardo, meaning hinge). Corners were cut off the sides of the letter pieces to allow a letter to cross over into another letter’s space, which allowed them to stand closer together.
Surprisingly, the words uppercase and lowercase stem from the physical location of type cases in traditional print shops – it was conventional to store the case of larger letters above the case of smaller letters.