Glossary

Part of learning any new skill is learning the language & lexicon of that skill so you can communicate about it. Calligraphy is no different. Here are some of the calligraphy-specific terms I use in my blog, and my definitions for them. If I use any language that you'd like clarification on, please let me know.

Ascender - The part of a letter that rises above the minim. The stems on b, d, f, h, k, l, and t.

Cartridge Pen - Another name for a fountain pen. Cartridge pens are a type of calligraphy pen that have an ink cartridge. They are convenient and easier to use than dip pens, but more expensive and not period.

Descender - The part of a letter than hangs below the minim: the tails on the g, j, p, q, and y. In some calligraphic scripts, the letters f, h, s, x, and z have descenders, unlike in modern text.

Dip Pen - A calligraphy pen that is dipped into the ink to fill. Usually consists of a holder and a metal nib. Some nibs have clip on reservoirs to help them hold more ink. Dip pen nibs are fairly inexpensive, and come in a wider variety of sizes and styles compared to a cartridge pen. Metal nibs do not appear to have been used in period.

Ductus - a description of the strokes used to form a letter.

Guideline - A mark made on your paper to help you locate your letters and pen strokes. Usually made with pencil and erased after the calligraphy is done and the ink is dry. Guidelines can be as simple as lines marking the top and bottom of the strokes that make up the minims. They can include lines for the tops and bottoms of the ascenders and descenders, slanted or vertical lines to help orient vertical strokes consistently, or any other pencil mark you use to help guide your finished pen strokes.

Hand - One scribe's specific way of writing a calligraphic script. Some calligraphy books use hand, script and alphabet interchangeably. In this blog I'm attempting to follow Marc Drogin's use of the terms to differentiate between a style of writing vs. the way an individual scribe pens that style.

Interlinear Space - The space between lines of text. This is the space that the ascenders, descenders and capital letters extend into. The spacing of lines on the page is often referred to in a ratio of minim height to interlinear space.

Minim - The height of lowercase letters without any stem or tail: a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, and u. In modern alphabets, s, v, x and z are also included in this list, but in period calligraphy, they sometimes aren't. The letter s is unique in that it has two versions, a short s used at the end of words, and the long s used in the beginning and middle of words. The long s usually looks like an f without the cross stroke. This is usually measured in nib-widths.

Nib - The part of the calligraphy pen that touches the paper to make marks.

Nib-width - The width of the marking edge of the pen. The height of letters and line spacing is usually measured in nib-widths.

Parchment - A writing surface made out of specially prepared animal hide, typically goat, sheep or calf skin. In the modern world, there are many fiber based papers that are called parchment. This term is sometimes used interchangeably with vellum, though vellum specifically refers to parchment made of calfskin.

Pergamenata - A modern paper that replicates the appearance and feel of parchment or vellum at a much more reasonable cost.

Period - A SCA term meaning something that falls within the Medieval and Renaissance time period we study.

Quill Pen - A calligraphy pen that is made out of a specially cured and cut feather. Almost all medieval calligraphy was done with a quill pen. Some early calligraphy was done with a reed pen.

Reed Pen - A calligraphy pen used out of a specially cut dried hollow reed. The reed pen was generally replaced by the quill pen due to the quill's better flexibility and durability.

Script - A calligraphic alphabet from a particular time period. Examples include Uncial, Carolingian Minuscule, Gothic Textura Quadrata, and Batardé. Some calligraphy books use hand, script and alphabet interchangeably. In this blog I'm attempting to follow Marc Drogin's use of the terms to differentiate between a style of writing vs. the way an individual scribe pens that style.

Vellum - A writing surface made out of specially prepared calfskin. In the modern world, there are some fiber based papers that use the term vellum to describe their texture. This term is sometimes used interchangeably with parchment, though vellum specifically refers to parchment made of calfskin.