In the Latin world there have been many endeavours to anatomize the shapes of letters, from Albrecht Dürer’s geometry of capitals in the 16th century to Stephen Coles’s excellent book, The Anatomy of Type, as recently as 2012.

While Greek uppercase, at least as far as fonts are concerned, can be analysed on the same basis as Latin, the lowercase has often been regarded as somewhat ‘exotic’. Thus Western type designers and scholars have shied away from anatomical terms in favour of labelling entire models after their creators without significant analysis of their construction and aesthetic relationships.

There are many professions that need terminology for everyday purposes. We can identify at least these: typeface designers, typographic designers, calligraphers, teachers of handwriting for children, design teachers, printers, graphic designers, palaeographers, etc. The difficulty has been getting all the modern groups to agree to use a standard set of terms. Almost all printing terms and glossaries of typographic terms in Greek nowadays have been established by non-Greeks, took place outside of Greece, and have been simply translated into Greek language.*

Glossary of Terms, Greek Letters: From Tablets to Pixels, Michael S. Macrakis (Oak Knoll Press, 1996).

Glossary of Terms, Greek Letters: From Tablets to Pixels, Michael S. Macrakis (Oak Knoll Press, 1996).

In the 1990s there were two significant conferences about Greek typography: in 1992 the “DIDOT Program” in Thessaloniki, and in 1995 “Greek letters: from tablets to pixels” in Athens. In both conferences there were attempts to establish a typographic glossary in Greek. The latter gave us, in the appendix of the proceedings publication, a “glossary of terms” with the following note of caution:

“It must be borne in mind that typographic terms have been introduced and used by practitioners with little if any theoretical background. As a consequence the terms that have survived are often of unknown origin (as is ‘serif’, say) and if the origin is known the evolution of the term in use bears little resemblance to its root (as with ‘punch’). One might be tempted to introduce modern terminology that is consistent and accurate. However, the three dimensional character has been supplanted by the two dimensional pixelography. Many terms survive, however, and we list a few that are encountered in the text.”

Around 2006 there was a concerted effort to agree on terminology, especially on the internet forum Hegrade. A significant number of terms commonly used in English were presented alongside suggestions for Greek terms. The discussion petered out, with, for example, four terms for serif** — some everyday, some arcane — with no agreement as to which was to be recommended. This is the situation that remains today.

So I will list here the terms that seem to be in common use in graphic design schools, with the caution that these terms might never have been used by printers or calligraphers.

Greek type anatomy’s most common terms.


* The x-height has translated in Greek (in half of the examples) as the kappa-height. Of course that isn’t a very safe assumption if you see curved and overshooting kappas, but then again, ‘x’ can do that too.  🙂

** We have ended up nominating six words for serifs: four from the Hegrade forum discussion in 2006 and two bonuses:

• serif = σέριφ (transliteration of the word “serif”)

• serif = πατούρα (patúra: flange, rabbet)

• serif = ακρεμόνας (akrémonas: tip of the branch)

• serif = ακρέμων (akrémon: tip of the branch, formal form of the above)

• serif = ακρότυπο (akrótipo: tip of the branch)

• serif = πέλμα (pélma: foot)

One more thing…

Greek is an alphabetic European script that, even if it is not written, always looks somewhat familiar especially in its typographic form. Nevertheless, to design it and typeset it correctly one needs to be familiar with its “peculiarity” compared to Latin. The Greek question mark is the Latin semicolon, the Greek semicolon is the Latin middle dot that is positioned a bit higher. The Greek lowercase always has accents and sometimes many accents and breath marks — if we set our text in Polytonic (not the official written system since 1982). But when written in capital letters, none of the accents and breath marks survive except for the dieresis. We prefer «French style quotes» and prefer our accents at the start of the sentence hanging. We even have our own ampersand, which is actually a conjunction of the word και (and), and it also has an uppercase form (there are two Unicode values). Then again, there is no keyboard layout to support it, so if you want to use it, then drag it or paste it from the character/glyph panel — if the font contains it. Even more bizarre is the Drachma symbol (Greek currency prior to the Euro) that never had a typographic form: the three consonants (δρχ) of the word were written before the number. If you are reminiscing those days when Greece had its own currency and you’d like to type it with style, our own Alverata has a few of them. 🙂

And lastly, what is needed: monotonic or polytonic Greek? In 2017 Google commissioned proposals for the standardisation of the Greek character set by defining the usage of Greek rather than simply following Unicode codepages. The sets have a specific structure and hierarchy:

General Use

• Core — Basic monotonic set for everyday modern Greek

• Plus — Basic polytonic set for scholarly Greek

• Expert — Small caps for Core and Plus sets, superscript letters

Scholarly Use

• Pro — Extended Polytonic set for ancient Greek studies

• Archaic — Variable letterforms for ancient texts, papyri

• Ancient — Musical symbols, Greek and Byzantine musical symbols

• Coptic — Liturgical language for Coptic church


  • Greek Letters: From Tablets to Pixels, Michael S. Macrakis (Oak Knoll Press, 1996)

  • Στοιχεία της τυπογραφικής τέχνης, Robert Bringhurst ;μετάφραση Γιώργος Δ. Ματθιόπουλος (2001)

  • Θέματα Αναπαραγωγής Και Εκτύπωσης, Klimis Mastoridis (1987)

  • Το γράψιμο και η αγωγή, Μαρία Αμαριώτου, (Φλάμμα, 1935)

  • Εγχειρίδιο Ελληνικής και Λατινικής παλαιογραφίας, [An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography], Edward Maunde Thompson ; μετάφραση Σπ. Λάμπρου (1903)

  • «Προβλήματα ελληνικής ορολογίας», discussion forum “Hegrade” (2006)

  • «Ανατομία του γράμματος», grDesign magazine (2013)

  • «Γράμματα – Τυπογραφία», Πανεπιστήμιο Δυτικής Αττικής, Τμήμα Γραφιστικής και Οπτικής Επικοινωνίας, Κατεύθυνση Γραφιστικής, Γ εξάμηνο σπουδών [undergraduate graphic design course material] (2019)

  • «Η ανατομία των τυπογραφικών στοιχείων», (2012)

  • «Εισαγωγή στην τυπογραφία», Πανεπιστήμιο Δυτικής Μακεδονίας Παιδαγωγικό Τμήμα Νηπιαγωγών, Αν. Καθηγήτρια: Ι. Βαμβακίδου [undergraduate pre-school education course material] (2015)


Download the PDF Greek Type Anatomy.

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