TypeTalk: Two-Story Type

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TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above. If Ilene answers your question in the blog, you’ll receive one Official Creativepro.com T-Shirt!
Q. Are there official terms for the variants of the lowercase a and lowercase g?
A. The official terms are not very official-sounding, but here’s the scoop:
There are two forms of the lowercase letter a: the single (or one) story (or storey) and the double (or two) story (or storey).
The single-story version is the one we learn to write as children and is commonly (but not exclusively) used in handwriting, calligraphy, and many italics. The two-story version is more common in Roman, or upright, typestyles. Both versions evolved from the capital letterform, as you can see in some Uncial scripts where the A looks like a combination of both. Uncial scripts are all-cap letterforms that appeared in Greek and Latin manuscripts from the fourth to the eighth century AD.
Similarly, the lowercase g comes in single- and double-story variants, and it’s also referred to as single and double loop, bowl, or tail. We learn to write the single-story g as children, and it’s most common in handwriting, calligraphy, and italics. The more ornate two-story g is found in many Roman, or upright, typestyles.
Figure 1. ITC Century Book, ITC Conduit, and Nueva Std. all contain two-story versions of a and g for the upright versions and one-story for the italics, but not all typefaces are that consistent.

Figure 2. Other typefaces vary tremendously in the style of their ‘a’s and ‘g’s, as shown in these examples set in Perpetua, Giacomo 2.0, Adobe Caslon Pro, ITC Humana Serif, and Egyptian Slate Pro.

These rules of appearance are very loose. You’ll see either version of both characters in any typeface following no discernible rule. Even so, knowing the terminology and recognizing the differences between the versions give you a tool to observe differences in typestyles and a language to discuss them.
Read more about the history of the letters A and G.
Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at [email protected] Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com.

James graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee in 2003. After a short stint designing catalogs he started working as a freelance designer for C2 Graphics Productivity Solutions. Soon he was promoted to a full time instructor/designer and subsequently become an Adobe Certified Instructor Design Master. Currently James is the Director of Content, Creative at lynda.com where he is also an author.
  • DBotma says:

    It’s great to hear you feature Quark’s outstanding typographic tools! I having long pursued excellence in typography, and even have a website dedicated to quality typography (www.kernprose.com).

    As a previous studio manager of a major Michigan Avenue, I have personally lamented the waning interest in quality typography. Using Quark’s Kern Table editor, we developed and libraried entire tables of kerned fonts, allowing us to import professional tables that would take hours to build. This created unparalleled quality and consistency.

    I have appreciated following your articles, and have learned much about the craft I love from them. It’s great seeing Quark get some of the press it deserves.

    Keep up the good work.

    DB
    [email protected]
    http://www.kernprose.com

  • Anonymous says:

    Hmmm. NIce post. Never really thought of the difference in the a’ and g’s before. Thanks for enlightening me.provillusearth4energygrow taller 4 idiotsmagic of making uphow to stop acnehomemade energy

  • Anonymous says:

    Who invented double storey ‘a’?

  • […] with the alignment, kerning, etc. I was particularly wanting the lowercase ‘a’ to be a double-story (handwritten a with a fenial on top) because the single-story (traditional handwritten a) would […]

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