Serifs (Was: Chromatic font research)

From: John Hudson (
Date: Thu Jul 04 2002 - 12:26:43 EDT

At 05:41 6/27/2002, Wm Seán Glen wrote:

>Serifs came about through experimentation because carving in stone tended
>to crack unless it was done that way. Something about relieving the
>stresses in the material, I think.

I think this theory has been pretty thoroughly debunked. In the first
place, the majority of archaic and classical Greek inscriptions have no
serifs, and there is no evidence that this practice caused any kind of
structural problems in the stone. I have just returned from the
Thessaloniki, where I saw many such inscriptions in the archaeological
museum and the royal tombs at Vergina.

Fr Edward Catich, in _The Origin of the Serif_ (1968), provides a
convincing argument that the development of serifs in classical Roman
epigraphy derived from the practice of painting the letters on the stone
prior to cutting them. They are an artifact of brush lettering, not stone

John Hudson

Tiro Typeworks
Vancouver, BC

Language must belong to the Other -- to my linguistic community
as a whole -- before it can belong to me, so that the self comes to its
unique articulation in a medium which is always at some level
indifferent to it. - Terry Eagleton

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