Where fonts end and formats begin

I was wondering the other day how the separation was defined between fonts and formats.

In the olden days of newspaper and book printing everything was a piece of lead.  An italicised e required a different piece of lead than did a regular e—both appearing backwards of course, to allow them to be readable when printed.  And leading itself, the spacing between lines of text, was introduced by inserting varying amounts and widths of lead horizontally between the rows of text.  My interest in typefaces may be related to my grandfather’s career as a typesetter—doubtful though, as sadly he died on the day of my fourth birthday.

And when word processing was brought to the masses by way of the typewriter (I still love the fact that you type that word using only the top row of the QWERTY keyboard; and I’m still baffled by the fact that I always type QWERTY by hunting out the letters one-by-one rather than automatically sweeping acros the top row), variable fonts, italics and bold were out, and underlining was done sub-optimally by retracing your steps and overtyping some underscores.  Leading was created through the carriage return, with variation of the standard created through adjusting the roller on which the paper sat.

And now in the world of the computer-based word processing, there is a clear separation between fonts and formatting.  Well, mostly clear.  Bold is part of formatting, apart from instances in which it’s been wrapped up in the font, in the likes of Arial Black.  Underlining and strikethrough are a format that can be applied to characters irrespective of their fonts.

Maybe the modern-day divide is true to the spirit of its lead predecessor, with typefaces coming in boxes and formatting (e.g. leading) being typeface-independent.  But the instances where formats play with the fonts themselves (e.g. italics, strikethrough) make it a little more complex.

Still, I think the divide is perfectly-positioned.  Except for Arial Black, of course.


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