"Web fonts" or "Webfonts"?

Stephen Coles's picture

When writing about fonts made for or licensed for web use, what is your preferred spelling? "Web fonts" is certainly more common (Google results for web fonts and webfonts), but I'm seeing more of the one word usage now that the market is maturing and providers and users are seeking a way to set apart those fonts that are specifically for the web.

fontsquirrel's picture

I have taken to consciously writing "webfonts." I think it deserves to be its own entity.

Nick Sherman's picture

I had a conversation about this just the other night at dinner with Jesse Ragan, Jackson Cavanaugh, Kent Lew, and Robb Ogle.

My personal take on it is perhaps more complicated than it needs to be, but I use "web fonts" when referring to fonts that were made for the web, and "webfonts" when referring to the general use of fonts on the web. Compare it to the difference between "type" and "typography".

Stephen Coles's picture

Interesting, Nick. I've been doing the opposite. Two words feels much more general to me.

And not sure how the "typography" parallel works. Can you give me a sentence as an example?

Jackson's picture

Has someone intercapped and trademarked it yet? WebFonts™

Nick Sherman's picture

I should note that using either "webfonts" or "web fonts" is less than ideal when what we really mean is "web typography"; unfortunately, the general public isn't very likely to make those distinctions.

If the phototype industry is any indication, I get the feeling that people will be inclined to squish the words in to one term as the field grows, so perhaps we should just make like the Germans and decisively embrace the contraction(?)

I struggled with a similar issue on the issue of "wood type" vs "woodtype". I opt for the two-word variation there, though mostly because of how it has been used historically. See also the thread I started on "sans serif": http://typophile.com/node/38484

erikvorhes's picture

I've been unconsciously typing "webfonts," but then again, I did a little dance when the AP changed its style guide to recommend "website" instead of "web site."

eliason's picture

Since "blogs" caught on, maybe we should push "bfonts."

Typography.Guru's picture

I use it this way:
"web fonts" - general term. system fonts on websites, MS core fonts for the web; fonts converted to sIFR, Cufón and so on.
"webfonts" - specific to downloadable fonts linked via @font-face.

matt_yow's picture

web fonts, for sure. Unless, like @jackson said, its trademarked.

my vote: for two words

descender's picture

I say webfonts.

Nick Sherman's picture

Both Ralph's and my interpretations – where "web fonts" and "webfonts" are slightly different concepts – perhaps bring up a larger issue of a lack of clear terminology to help people avoid lumping everything in to one vague concept.

Most people will understandably consider "web fonts" to be synonymous with "webfonts" and use them interchangeably. It seems worth killing one or the other, whether or not we adopt other terms to help clarify the subtle distinctions.

rob keller's picture

Personally I'm all for "webfonts." Don't know if that's because of wanting a new term for them or simply the influence of living in Germany and having fun combining words :)

However, another issue for us was how to describe the 'web' format version. For this we adopted the crazy all caps approach: i.e. 'Vesper WEB' vs. the Pro or Basic models. Don't know why for that either... I think we were just really excited when we started offering webfonts last year.

nina's picture

Micro-semantics aside, if the correct/recommended spelling for web site is now "website", surely it would be more consistent to also use "webfonts"?

Jackson's picture

crazy all caps approach

Hey Rob, I'm curious what the thinking was behind the all-caps "WEB" versus the normal u/l?

I'm all for "webfonts" and think it's best used to generally to describe non-system font software used on a website. So using them on a website should be described as "using webfonts".

johnnydib's picture

Another question is how do you pronounce @font-face?
"At font face", or just "font face"?

paul.irish's picture

> Another question is how do you pronounce @font-face?
The Typekit guys and I go with "at font face". It's a bit better, since this used to be legal HTML: <font face="wingdings">...

Webfonts as the files used with @font-face, for sure. Web fonts as the general case.

JamesM's picture

Recently I heard a dictionary editor say that when there are two versions of a word in common usage, the shorter one usually wins. "E-mail" becomes "email", "web site" becomes "website", etc.

mehallo's picture

Ditto with JamesM's comment. And a writer I worked with said it years ago - two words eventually become one. So we can nip it in the bud and just call it webfonts.

But I'm still trying to figure out the pronunciation of WOFF. Since a web programmer, a few weeks back, was adamant towards me about how it was supposed to be pronounced. And I decided to let him have his way or he may have had a melt down or something.


Thomas Phinney's picture

Personally, I'm still using "web fonts" as two words. Then again, I'm still not entirely comfortable or used to "website" as one word, either.


John Hudson's picture

I use both casually, but if I'm being formal I always write 'web fonts', and note that the W3C working group is called Web Fonts.

.webfont was the original name for what is now WOFF (Web Open Font Format).

Joe Pemberton's picture

Stephen, I think I'm with you' if this were alone, without other precedent. Where this might break down is there's no parallel for device fonts and embedded fonts.

But, since it's important to communicate that the software people are licensing is distinctly different (technologically different, or even with distinct licensing characteristics), it adds clarity to call them webfonts.

webfonts = specific software designed for web browsers

web fonts = the use or discussion of the software (how about web type, browser-based typography or even just typography). My personal agenda is to remind people that we've entered the post-browser internet age, so you can see my bias showing.

By the way, Web Fonts or WebFonts will eventually expire. I was thrilled when the style manuals moved away from capitalizing Web and Internet, even though they were about 10 years behind the common lowercase usage. (Ironically my iPad wants to keep capitalizing it without my permission!)

Ray Larabie's picture

Web fonts should only be used when making fun of Netscape users.

Tim Ahrens's picture

I realised that unconsciously, I used the two options inconsistenly, apparently for different reasons:

- "Webfonts" looks more compact in a horizontal menu, where you want the items clearly separated.

- In triple-compounds such as "webfont service" this easier to pick up and less ambiguous. Is a "web font service" a service for web fonts, or a web-based font service?

I had the same issue as Rob with the name of the web version of my fonts. First, I decided to call it FacitWeb because it is a slight redesign of Facit but then got convinced that camel case looks silly and changed it to Facit Web. Technically, the font-family property is FacitWeb though.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

In Norway, it’s the other way around. Our language join expressions like “summer vacation” (“sommerferie”) and “chocolate milkshake” (sjokolademilkshake), but they regulary turn up disconnected, mainly caused by English influence. Oh, and the advertising business seem to think it’s fine to split words in logotypes, but I’d say that’s just a poor excuse for miserable design.

dberlow's picture

>(Google results for web fonts and webfonts)

Web fonts looks like English to me, Webfonts looks like German to me. A lot of people are calling them "Custom Fonts" too. We'll go with which ever wins the google poll by 2011. Being utter populists, we've already started changing all our databases and font names to reflect our adoption of "those little feet things" and "without those little feet things" instead of the elitist words you all know. ;)


fontsquirrel's picture

Haha, love it David.

boardman's picture

I'm with Thomas. I am still writing "web sites" -- and "web fonts" is the logical extension. But I only stopped writing "Web sites" a few years ago!

grantbarrett's picture

We're already seeing that making two-word "web" compounds into one word is actually behind the trend.

Web site --> web site --> website --> site

The same thing has happened for "e-" in many cases. People use "mail" nearly as much as they use "email/e-mail/E-mail" to refer to electronic mail.

E-mail/e-mail/email --> mail

So perhaps we could leapfrog some intervening steps here:

Web font/web font/webfont --> font

So, why start out specifying "web" or "Web" at all? We're getting to where the Internet and the Web are the default locations for just about everything. The trend to drop "web" is so widespread and common that it's hardly noticed. We have a few highly contested battles for things like "website," but those are the minority cases.

Look at it from another angle: in most of my conversations with people, they no longer even specify that they heard, read, or learned something on the Internet or Web. It's just assumed. Disambiguation is only required when they learned it offline *and* there's room for confusion.

I could see how highly technical insiders might require some disambiguation, the same way they might require specifying TrueType or OpenType fonts to their design and typography peers.

If you do feel that "web" is required, then I am afraid I think it should be an open compund: "web font" or "Web font," which by necessity should create the backformation "desktop font" or similar. But that's just a matter of opinion and style, not of grammar or anything inherent in English.

dberlow's picture

GB> Web site --> web site --> website --> site [...] Web font/web font/webfont --> font

A good point. But just like there are still job sites, crash sites, launch sites, camp sites, and plenty-of-other-sites, as well as millions of people who are not nearly as webminded as most people here, I think there will probably be a disambiguation requirement for the word "font" in certain contexts and to certain audiences for a long time.


rob keller's picture


Sorry for my delayed reply…
Like I said, I think we were just overly excited about making some of the first webfonts and were shouting a little when trying to state that fact. (I was only a few clicks away from using the html code on anything webfont-related too.)

However, the novelty has more than worn off several months ago, so our future updates will simply be 'Web'.

FontBrother's picture

Font Bros is going with 'web fonts', mostly because Wikipedia (that bastion of all that is True and Good on the web) has it that way when they describe what we are trying to describe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_typography

Richard Fink's picture

But in the transition to webified fonts, what of the webbishness of the font? Its webasticity? Is anyone thinking of that!

Goofing aside - one problem nobody's mentioned is search engines. On the web you write for robots, too. web font, webfont, - what I'm wondering is how Google or Bing pick up on the difference.

"web fonts" is a topic now popular among techie and type geeks. I don't think anybody outside those professional circles is going to understand or make any distinction between a "web font" and simply a "font".

I'd prefer just "font" for general readers.
But right now, it's all about the target audience, context, and SEO.

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