Talk:Text figures

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Polish name[edit]

Interestingly, oldstyle numerals are called nautical numerals (cyfry nautyczne) in Polish. I am wondering if there is deeper reason behind it. Przepla 20:40, 26 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Shouldn't this page be moved to Oldstyle numerals? I nobody objects I could do it later today.Przepla 23:15, 26 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Good idea. I finally know the origin of the strange numbering in the Yale University "Blue Book" (Course listing book, officially the YCPS)! It used these numerals.


Any objection to renaming this article Text figures? That's the most common term. Shorne 01:27, 27 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Hmm. I am not sure if text figures is more common than old-style numerals. I suppose we should use the name which is used by printed typography manuals. Przepla 12:41, 27 Oct 2004 (UTC)
"Oldstyle", though lame, is the most common form and should be kept. By the way, I have never seen them called "medieval numerals" in English. This is German usage. I'm editing it in the article. RodC 13:46, 27 Oct 2004 (UTC)
At a minimum, old-style should be written with a hyphen. Shorne 14:23, 27 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Probably, yes. The two forms appeared on the article, so I standardized according to the title. I'll try to check what is the preferred form in typography references. RodC 17:40, 27 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Bringhurst's glossary says "Old-Style Figures  A poor but common synonym for text figures." That's good enough for me. I'll take the initiative and rename the article (and add appropriate redirects).
Woah! This is on today's main page; that explains all the attention. I've updated the listing there and purged the main page cache. Michael Z. 20:36, 2004 Oct 27 (UTC)
Thanks to Przepla for the curious Polish name. I've added it to the page. Conceivably this could become a featured article if we added some more illustrations, a bit more text, and a few references. As a lover of text figures, I'm glad to see this article. Shorne 22:27, 27 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Chicago Manual of Style, Appendix B: Glossary:
arabic numerals. The familiar digits used in arithmetical computation. In many type fonts arabic numerals are available in two forms: lining, or aligning (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0), and old style, abbreviated OS and characterized by ascenders and descenders.

Pauladin (talk) 18:59, 5 July 2013 (UTC)


The French and Spanish names refer to the numbers as "elzevirians" which implies they are somehow related to the Elzevir family of Dutch printers. However, the article doesn't touch the issue at all... is there really a connection? -- Rune Welsh ταλκ 21:16, July 21, 2005 (UTC)

Legibility of text figures[edit]

High-quality typesetting prefers text figures in running text: they meld better with the lower case (and with small capitals), and their greater variety of shape facilitates reading.

I would contest that. Perhaps some people find them easier to read in body text, and perhaps typographers use this as their reasoning, but personally I can't stand them. I find them confusing and distracting, which impedes readability. Lining figures make it clear that these characters are numbers, lining up neatly on the baseline, whereas text figures jump all over the place. It would be like placing ranDom capiTaL LeTTers in the miDDLe oF a worD (in my mind, 1996 would read as "nineteen ninety SIX!!" and 2800 as "twenty EIGHT!! hundred?"). Further, who decided that 8 has an ascender, while the 2 does not? And what I would normally think of as the middle of 4, rests on the baseline in text figures. Who thought this was a good idea? --The Disgruntled Designer Birdhombre 18:14, 16 September 2005 (UTC)

"who decided that 8 has an ascender, while the 2 does not?"
Who decided that h has an ascender, while the m does not?
RodC 20:49, 16 September 2005 (UTC)
As the article states, text figures are based on traditional manuscripts. Lining figures were developed later, for printing with movable type.
Their purpose in modern typography isn't necessarily to make numbers clearer, but to facilitate fast, smooth reading of long text passages, which may contain a few numbers, and to provide a consistent "colour" to body test, without any jarring blots that distract the eye. In this context, most numbers would be written out, and one would expect to see very few figures; perhaps just years. Small capitals are similarly used for abbreviations, like USA or WWII.
Of course this is based on traditional typesetting for print; don't judge by the average computer display, which has a much lower resolution than print, and a very poor or non-existent selection of fonts with text figures. Good design for print may well fail on any particular computer display, and vice versa.
Anyway, contesting that seems pointless, although maybe it could be stated a bit more clearly. This article documents the practices of professional typographers. It's an art, so specific cases and individual preferences vary greatly, but that is indeed the function of text figures. Michael Z. 2005-09-16 22:00 Z
Well put, and I'd like to make clear that my question ("Who decided that h has an ascender, while the m does not?") was a rhetorical answer to Birdhombre's question. These shapes have been formed along generations, through a long – to the point of being almost "natural" – process of evolution. What's interesting though is that with numerals there's indeed a certain room for individual intervention, as the specifically French style of text figures show. RodC 23:26, 16 September 2005 (UTC)
Sorry, I should have been more clear; I was basically just offering up my personal view, and didn't mean the article was misleading or POV or anything. :) I think perhaps I'm just more accustomed to lining figures because they seem to be more prevalent today, so I always thought text figures looked awkward. However, I did once read a novel (can't remember which at the moment) that had a colophon at the end explaining why their font choice and use of deckled pages was so fantastic, and I remember thinking how the text figures actually slowed down my reading speed, rather than facilitating it (and the deckled edges made it easy to grab multiple pages by mistake when turning).
It's funny you mention character evolution. In college, one of our typography projects was to design a new letterform that would fit with the current alphabet. So... it had to be unique, yet still look like it made sense (and we had to find a proper place for it in the alphabet). I thought it was kinda funny when our prof would claim this counter or that bowl didn't exist elsewhere in the alphabet. Well guess what, if the Romans had invented this letter, you wouldn't have any say in the matter! :D
Thanks for the quick responses. --Birdhombre 23:45, 16 September 2005 (UTC)
Sorry if I sounded pedantic. Don't forget that designers may sometimes try to slow down your reading, especially if they're in love with their own work! It was fun to answer your question, then get caught up reviewing Bringhurst on the subject, then revise the article. Cheers. Michael Z. 2005-09-16 23:59 Z
For those wondering: deckle. — (talk) 14:24, 30 October 2013 (UTC)


There is no in-depth discussion of WHY Text figures are/were used in the article. There is plenty of discussion on the history/etymology, and HOW they came about and WHERE they are still used. It glosses over WHY. The only reference is mid-paragraph halfway through the document, and you have to search it out.


"Some typographers disagree with these opinions, and maintain that a skilled typesetter can do an adequate, if not superior, job using text figures." It's unclear to me what "these opinions" refers to--does it refer to the statement in the immediately preceding sentence that line figures work better in certain environments, or to the statements in the rest of the paragraph that text figures work better in certain environments? The clause "...maintain that..." leads me to believe the latter, but I had to read this paragraph several times to understand. Mcswell (talk) 00:03, 7 February 2015 (UTC)

The number 1[edit]

Why does the number 1 look like the letter I? It seems confusing, as the letter I is also typed this way in the font, only larger. The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk • contribs) .

If you're referring to the image at the beginning of the article, the text figure 1 definitely can't be confused with lower-case l or upper-case i, because it has no ascender or dot; it is only the height of the lower-case letter x. Michael Z. 2006-03-03 03:37 Z
What I mean is that it looks more like the letter I than the number 1.

Nearly died out in C20th?[edit]

I have toned down the claims in the article that were suggesting that text figures practically disappeared in the 20th century, because they seem quite dubious to me. In an unscientific test (i.e. looking at random books from my shelves), text figures and lining figures seem to be roughly equally represented throughout the 20th century; in particular, nearly every book I have from the 1960s and 1970s uses text figures, as do many of those from the 1990s.

The implication is that if text figures ever "nearly died out", that can only have been during the 1980s (a decade I can't immediately find any books from), which is very different from the extreme picture the article was painting. It's likely that my collection is not representative (it has a heavy bias towards academic presses), but it still seems hard to justify the previous wording... — Haeleth Talk 14:40, 8 October 2006 (UTC)

Your impression seems similar to mine: that text figures started disappearing in the 1970s, and that by the present-day, we've reached the point that lining figures are far and away the default, with text figures standing out as unusual whenever they are used. Regardless, whatever the case may be, we really need to find an outside authority, align this article with what it says, and cite it (per WP:CITE). Ruakh 16:54, 8 October 2006 (UTC)
Computer Modern Roman includes text figures somewhere in the OT-1 encoded version, so a LaTex switch somewhere in teh style file would be enough to use text figures in a LaTeX document. (Although this is probably inapropriate in most cases, since math is better in lining figures, even though text figures are better elsewhere). Anything non-mathematical I do I use text figures in for improved readability. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 16:08, 10 May 2007 (UTC).


For reference, in LaTeX, these are produced with \oldstylenums{1234567890}. —Ben FrantzDale 18:19, 21 May 2007 (UTC)

Cool! Sadly, that doesn't seem to work in MediaWiki's TEX implementation (<math> tags on Wikipedia). —RuakhTALK 19:15, 21 May 2007 (UTC)

Tamla Motown 45s[edit]

In Tamla Motown's famous 45r.p.m. logo printed on their singles, the '5' drops well below the '4' and is not as high making it look as though '4' has an ascender and '5' has a decender. Is this a popular example of text figures or just to make the symbol look cool? It would be unusual, as far as I can tell from the text, for '4' to be an ascender. Wish wellingtons 10:38, 26 July 2007 (UTC)

The renaming discussion again[edit]

I'd like propose, again, renaming this page. To "Old style figures." The term "text figures" is not used with anything approaching frequent, prevalent, or majority usage, at least in the U.S.

Quite a lot of that usage, of course, is because of Adobe System's popularization of OSFs into the common usage by their support in PostScript fonts and OpenType fonts. But regardless, since Adobe products have come to dominate the computer typography industry, their choice of nomenclature does matter.

I don't find Bringhurst's very compelling for modern usage, especially outside Canada. So, I propose renaming this page to Old-style figures, for these reasons:

  • "Old-style figures" is the most common name in modern typography
  • Old Style figures is the name used by Adobe Systems' and their products, and they dominate modern typography and desktop publishing software (example: Adobe font catalog)
  • Oldstyle figures is the name used in the Microsoft OpenType specification.

Discuss. jhawkinson (talk) 03:54, 22 November 2008 (UTC)

Do you have some other insight about what's used in Canada, the UK, USA, Australia, etc., or are you just speculating about Bringhurst's influence? I don't find nos. 2 and 3 very convincing—it's not like typographers learn their craft from the tool vendors. Let's survey literature in the field, and get a hint at what's actually used. Michael Z. 2008-11-22 16:46 z
Let me add to this old discussion. I think Old-style figures or Old style figures would be the best title. That's what they are called most frequently. And in fact, Robert Bringhurst is considered to be a authority on the subject. His book 'the elements of typographic style' is colloquially called 'the typographers bible' for a reason. Typehigh (talk) 01:02, 10 October 2009 (UTC)
Where did I see them called lowercase? (I kinda thought it was in Bringhurst.) —Tamfang (talk) 18:13, 5 December 2010 (UTC)

Lining or Titling figures[edit]

The links lining figures and titling figures should not redirect to this article (text figures). That makes no sense, since they are different things. If those terms redirect to this article, the article should be renamed to something more general and rewritten to contain all types of figures (more than the small mentions they get now). If not, then lining figures needs its own article. Typehigh (talk) 01:06, 10 October 2009 (UTC)

Is there enough information on Lining to warrant its own article, or should this article be modified to reflect both?--Vox Rationis (Talk | contribs) 21:21, 2 November 2009 (UTC)
Well, that is what I was wondering about. Personally I think the article should be rewritten to contain both figure types (and thus let the redirects in place). Typehigh (talk) 17:22, 13 November 2009 (UTC)

Didot family[edit]

... the types cut by the Didot family of punchcutters and type designers in France between the late 18th and early 19th centuries ...

That article seems to say that Firmin Didot (1764–1836) should get most of the blame. —Tamfang (talk) 18:21, 5 December 2010 (UTC)

Modern use[edit]

I wonder if any proper tyopgraphers out there could add something to the article about modern use of and perspectives on text figures. Clearly, they are less commonly seen now than in many old books, no doubt in part to the rise of poor-quality computer typesetting, but are there major publishers, newspapers or academic journals that use them routinely and not just when seeking a certain look? Are there commonly expressed views amongst typographers on when they are appropriate and when not? For example, I've recently started using LaTeX and was pleased to have the opportunity to use text figures, but they didn't look right next to scientific units and I ended up scrapping them from my document completely rather than using them inconsistently. That was my view, but what do the professionals and knowledgeable amateurs think about text figures? Beorhtwulf (talk) 20:36, 27 February 2011 (UTC)

I did computerized typesetting at Kingsport Press from 1969 to 2003, which of course makes my experience Original Research. Most fonts as their regular figures had aligning figures as standard: all regular figures were designed on an en-space (width = half the pointsize of the font) and columns of regular figures in tables would line up. In typesetter fonts, Old style figures not only varied in heighth, they varied in width and made tabular setting problematic. Most traditional manual typewriters, like Olympia and Underwood, used Old Style figures (text figures) but typewriters, being monospaced anyway, had no problem aligning tabular figures. Few fonts had Old Style as their regular figures. Old Style figures were an option in VideoFonts for the VideoComp computerised typesetting device (late 1960s to mid 1980s) which was orginally marketed by RCA in the US to substitute for Mergenthaler Linotype. Small cap letters and old style figures were grouped in the same VideoFont subset: so there was a "modern" market for their use. Old style was used if called for: primarily stylized heads, setting patches to update books typeset years earlier with standing film plates, that sort of thing. Naaman Brown (talk) 15:47, 12 November 2011 (UTC)