kaile's picture

This feels like such a stupid question, but now I have everybody at work debating over what the technical name for a "double-story" lowercase "a" is called v.s. a "single-story". Is it just an lowercase with or without an arm? or is there a specific name! please help me put an end to this debate!

Florian Hardwig's picture

Hi Kaile,

‘single-storey a’ resp. ‘double-storey a’ are certainly the most common terms, and with them, everybody knows what you’re talking about.
I have heard ‘open/closed a’, too (in German), but it doesn’t make that much sense to me. Same with ‘script a’ (for the single-storey version).

Some fonts that regularly have a double-storey ‘a’ (and ‘g’) are also available with single-storey alternatives for these letters. They are usually referred to as ‘Schoolbook’ or ‘Infant’ fonts. The idea behind this is that the letterforms for reading should be similar to those for writing. Relevant examples would be Gill Sans Schoolbook or Bembo Schoolbook. However, you won’t call the letter a ‘schoolbook a’ for this reason.


blank's picture

I occasionally see unicameral for the single-story and bicameral for the double-story, but only in works meant for serious typophiles. I just stick with single/double-story.

kaile's picture

thanks so much!!!

kentlew's picture

James --

Unicameral and bicameral used in that way are misnomers. The stem -cameral comes from the Latin camera, meaning "room" or "chamber". The terms are usually used to describe different forms of government with one or two legislative houses.

When applied to type (i.e., by Bringhurst), these terms are usually used to describe whether an alphabet has one or two "cases" -- e.g., Latin script is considered bicameral, since there are upper case (majuscule) and lower case (miniscule) forms. Cyrillic is also bicameral. By contrast, Devanagari (the script for writing Sanskrit, Hindi, and others) is unicameral; there is no upper case.

It's a bit unusual to apply the terms to the different forms of 'a' or 'g'.

-- K.

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