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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.
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