G-Tails.

Sarah Zhang explains the odd divergence of the printed lowercase “g” from the one we write:

In a recent study delightfully titled “The Devil’s in the ‘g’-Tails,” researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that most people are unaware of the common form of the lowercase “g” that appears in books. […] [T]he letter has two closed loops, distinct from the way “g” is usually written by hand. […]

The double-story “g”—what is now the common printed form—is the original form of the lowercase “g” (the OG … ?), says Paul Shaw, a type designer who teaches at the New School. It originated in the eighth century among monks copying religious texts in Latin. The script they used became known as Carolingian script.

Over time, monks copying by hand introduced variations in their letters. And so, the single-story “g” emerged, most famously in black-letter or Gothic calligraphy. When Johannes Gutenberg started printing books in the mid-15th century, he naturally copied the monks’ Gothic script. The lowercase “g”s of the Gutenberg Bible resemble a single-story “g,” as do the lowercase “g”s of modern Gothic typefaces that imitate this style.

Then, plot twist: the return of the double-story “g.” “In the Renaissance,” says Shaw, “there was an interest in Roman and Greek culture by scholars that led to a revival of the Carolingian script.” Like Gutenberg, later Renaissance type cutters also imitated local scripts, and the Carolingian double-story “g” eventually became popular in print all over Europe. But single-story “g” prevails in handwriting, probably due to how much easier and quicker it is to write.

There are, of course, illustrations, as well as an excursus on the old Google double-story “g,” whose neck is too far to the right:

I called up Ruth Kedar, the designer who created the Google logo in 1999. “The font was chosen in many ways because of that very unusual ‘g,’” she confessed. (The font is Catull.) “This was the ’90s,” she said. “The internet was new, and the people did not really know how to use those things, computers.” Kedar wanted the logo to appear friendly but still convey an old-fashioned authority. This unusual yet familiar double-story “g” helped.

In 2015, with computers firmly entrenched in our lives, Google updated its logo to feature a more modern-looking sans-serif font and a single-story “g.”

I confess I’m still annoyed at the change. (Thanks, jack!)

Comments

  1. Well, your own website uses the single-story g, and I’ve often wondered why you don’t switch to a non-gothic font that would make I (capital i) and l (lower-case L) more distinguishable, given the number of obscure words bandied about here. Note that the IPA technically requires the single story, so U+0261 ɡ should always be single-story even in double-story fonts, although there would be about as much chance of misreading it “as there would be of a Scot misreading E’boro” (Chadwick).

    All the Google logos, including Brin’s original hand-drawn (well, with Gimp) version, the Baskerville Bold, the Catull, and the current sans-serif versions, are available at Wikipedia.

  2. David L says:

    I was taught to write by hand in what was called copperplate, something like this. The lower case ‘g’ is looped on the top and the bottom. (The ‘s’ and the upper case ‘Q’ are wacky but that’s another story).

    My handwriting has strayed far from this ideal, but oddly enough, my lower case ‘g’ typically has a closed loop on the bottom but an open loop (a squiggle, to speak technically) on the top part.

  3. Marja Erwin says:

    I have not the coordination for that. I tend to use small caps, because sometimes I need other people to read what I write and it is easier to read my caps. If I’m using the Roman alphabet. People may stumble if I slip into another.

  4. As Douglas Hofstadter points out, “A” is normally open at the bottom and closed at the top, but then there’s the Stop font, which combines the virtues of ugliness with those of illegibility.

  5. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    There was a time, probably in my late teens, but I don’t really remember, when I systematically used a printed style of g in my handwriting. I think I probably still do occasionally. However, all the recent handwritten text that I can find (mainly in an address book), have a handwriting style of g.

  6. I’m surprised the term counter is never mentioned.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    I noticed the double-story g very early, mostly because it was used in the TV news.

    The handwriting I was taught, and still use on the rare occasions when I have to write by hand (and not in all-caps), is this, just vertical, not inclined, and a bit narrower.

  8. Stu Clayton says:

    Ausgangsschrift is exactly what I took its counterpart to be in American grade school. I quickly moved on to develop my own illegible advanced version.

  9. Bill W. says:

    Carolingian minuscule script actually goes back to “new” Roman cursive, which is the Latin cursive script that came into use around 300 CE for everyday writing (as opposed to stone inscriptions and literary manuscripts).

    Here is a discussion of Roman writing where you can see how G was formed:

    https://sites.dartmouth.edu/ancientbooks/2016/05/25/ancient-fonts-rustic-capitals-old-and-new-roman-cursive/

    http://medievalwriting.50megs.com/scripts/examples/newroman.htm

    And the evolution of the various medieval scripts from new Roman cursive can be traced here:

    http://medievalwriting.50megs.com/scripts/scrindex.htm#topoflist

    My understanding is that the early Renaissance humanists adopted a modified form of Carolingian minuscule because the oldest manuscripts of classical authors they knew, dating from the 9th century or so, were written in Carolingian minuscule, and the humanists were under the misimpression that these actually dated from Roman antiquity. Carolingian minuscule was generally created out of “insular” scripts (English and Irish) that emerged in the 7th-8th centuries, ultimately from new Roman cursive. Carolingian minuscule is quite legible even to non-specialists today and was the result of a deliberate Carolingian project to develop a uniform and legible script.

  10. dainichi says:

    @David L: The lower case ‘g’ is looped on the top and the bottom

    Funny, I was taught to write something like copperplate too, but I never mentally grouped copperplate g with the double-story g. To me, the copperplate g is a single-story g plus the convention that lowercase letters should end in a way that connects to the next letter (even if there is no next letter). When I first read your sentence, I though “No, it’s not”. Bun then I realized that it is.

  11. Bathrobe says:

    Carolingian minuscule was generally created out of “insular” scripts (English and Irish) that emerged in the 7th-8th centuries, ultimately from new Roman cursive.

    The British are always causing trouble.

  12. January First-of-May says:

    I also have learned to write the left-facing “single-story” g with two loops. If anything, the one-loop version looks almost as weird to me as the right-facing two-story version.
    (But apparently I sometimes end up using the one-loop version in sloppy handwriting when there’s no next letter to connect it with.)

    At least it’s not as complicated as Russian small д: some handwritings (and fonts) have it as the two-looped single-story g, some (including the cursive/italic font on LH) use a completely different shape resembling the partial derivative symbol, and some use a yet other completely different shape – д – with descenders on both ends (this shape is usually chosen in non-cursive printed fonts, as well as the “cursive” ones that are just slanted, and is apparently the original form of the letter).

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Well, the original form of the letter is Δ; already in Greek, the horizontal line often became longer, and at some point later it acquired serifs.

  14. I learnt the single-loop left-facing left g at school one year, and a couple of years later the double loop left-facing g. The right-facing double loop g I see most often in books and newspapers. Didn’t we have a similar discussion about the a here?
    This whole discussion reminds me of learning Chinese and the trouble of reading texts in a different font than used by our textbook. So difficult! I wonder if some people have difficulties reading texts in the Latin alphabet in different fonts. For me, I hardly notice any differences.

  15. It can happen. One of my adult literacy students was confused last week by the looped branch of an italic k.

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