Blame it on Ronald and his Peeve Week 2 for putting me in exasperating mode. I already shared my peeves on Culture and Misconceptions on his blog and will be writing more peeves on Internet and Stereotypes. Here though I’d like to talk about the differences between certain terms that often are being inadvertently erased.

Font vs. Typeface, Web vs. Internet, Tag vs. Attribute, Java vs. JavaScript… feel free to add to this list of confusing terms.

Font vs. Typeface

I’m the first one to admit that I was getting confused by these two terms myself. With the introduction of computers the terms Font and Typeface are often used interchangeably, however it is wrong.

Typefaces are designs, fonts are their digital representation. Typographers, or Type designers create Typefaces and Graphic or Web Designers choose certain typefaces for their projects. In order to actually use those typefaces in our digital works we need to have the corresponding fonts installed on our computers and printers to send the designs for print.

Font is the variation of type in styles (bold, italic) and sizes (12pt, 1in). Typeface describes the shape of characters, created by typographers.

Here are some correct ways of asking questions when referring to Font or Typeface:

  • What typeface was used for Star Wars logo?
  • Can you email me the font used for Aliens poster?
  • Which typefaces are web-safe?
  • What font size should I use when highlighting the captions?

Web vs. Internet

We often use these terms synonymously: “I couldn’t find your site on the Internet” or “I read your article on the Web”. However, the Web is just one of the services offered by the Internet. Other services include email, FTP, newsgroups, instant messaging, and much more.

Tag vs. Attribute

Leaving Tag clouds and Tagging aside, Tag is an HTML element that indicates semantic structures in an HTML document and specifies how this document or a portion of it must be formatted. Most HTML Tags have attributes that describe the tag. So for example <IMG /> is a tag that displays an image on the page, but ALT is an attribute of the Image tag that displays the title of that image. Thus it is wrong to say “don’t forget to include ALT tags in your code”.

Java vs. JavaScript

This confusion used to bug me when I was teaching JavaScript. I was always starting my first lecture with a big writing on the white board – JavaScript is NOT Java.

Java is a fully fledged OOP language that must be compiled before it can be run on the Web; it generates standalone applications. Java was created by SUN Microsystems. JavaScript is a smaller OO scripting language that is interpreted by a browser, must be embedded or linked to an HTML document, and it cannot create standalone applications. JavaScript was created by Netscape. It is important to keep in mind that a Java-enabled browser is not automatically a JavaScript-enabled browser, so make sure you check your browser’s configuration when you run into problems when viewing pages with JavaScript or Java.

What are some other terms that we’re often getting confused with?

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15 Insightful Bits in response to “When Is It Wrong To Call A Typeface Font”

  1. Thanks for the info on fonts vs typefaces. I’ve been guilty of not really knowing the differences between the two. But now I know. :)

    I might be getting a bit techy, but the difference between a megabit and a megabyte is quite important and not often understood.

  2. Not to mention the difference between nibbles, bits and bytes… Only joking!

    I used to get really annoyed at people that didn’t know the difference between a Typeface and a font – then I realised that there were far more important things to worry about, like drinking until I fell over… ;)

  3. Okay, Okay, I’m guilty. I interchange web and internet all the time. I betcha can’t make me stop either.

  4. Hi Vivien,

    Great post! It’s amazing how many people can’t actually describe the difference and get it wrong.

    I think it’s a pet peeve of designers (even though I’ve been guilty) when people mis-use the term, but as Paul says, there are other priorities.

  5. Vivien

    oh, of course I agree there are other priorities in life than correcting people in using various terms. I didn’t mean to put anyone on spot… like I said – blame it on Ronald for putting me in a peevish mood :-)

    I’m guilty of interchanging internet and web all the time, despite knowing the difference between them and actually teaching about it for a long time.

    Megabits and megabytes – that’s a huge difference between them especially when measured in bits ;-)

  6. In my Typographic Workbook, it says font also includes “the upper- and lowercase alphabet, all the symbols, monetary symbols, numerals, punctuation, fractions, mathematical symbols, ligatures, dingbats, superior and inferior characters, small caps and accentuated characters that are necessary for typesetting… The word font includes much more than the term typeface.” Phew! It also says “Typefaces are only composed of the letters and sometimes the numbers. A Typeface is much smaller than a font.” It didn’t say anything about the difference between digital and printed, though.

    Web v. Internet and Tag v. Attribute – I know those, but I still use them interchangeably! Now what we really should be calling it is the Galactic Network Interweb. Very Web 3.0, is it not?

    Java v. JavaScript I know and don’t swap, but I didn’t know that JS was developed by Netscape!

    Disc v. Disk. Disc = optical storage media (CD, DVD). Disk = magnetic storage media (Hard Drive).

    Let’s also add Internet v. ISP. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, “The Internet is down again.” No, no, your connection is down.

    URL v. URI. I don’t know the difference. I’ve tried to understand it but my resources must not be very good.

  7. Vivien

    Yes, I also read about the font being comprised from all characters, symbols, etc. Although it is a bit confusing – somebody must design/sketch/create those symbols as well, right? so if Typographers create those symbols, why don’t make them to be a part of a typeface?

    Regarding URL vs URI – thanks for the reminder – another big confusion. As it turns out URL is a part of URI, and officially URL is a deprecated term now, so we should use URI, although I rarely hear anyone using it. There was an interesting article about URL vs. URI

    Internet vs. ISP – so true. I meant to write about it as well, but then forgot :-)
    How many times I had clients calling me and complaining about their email or internet connection being down. Note, that I’m not their ISP, all I did is helped them with their hosting set up and designed their websites. Huh…

    Thanks for adding to the list of confusing terms, Lauren.

  8. URL is deprecated? Great. Just when the people at work are finally figuring out what URL actually is. :)

    I’m with Lauren when people will say, what’s wrong with your Internet. Uhm… Nothing, Internet is fine — it’s my connection that’s slow.

  9. This is useful, I did not know about some of these confusions. This is funny: as a non-native English speaker, I sometimes learn by deduction, and if many people mistake the sense of a word, I may take that for granted, because I don’t have the time to check everything with a dictionary.
    However, there are situations in which it is better to intentionally use some words in a mistaken way, in order to make yourself understood very fast. This is an example: I once asked a friend to play the secretary for me, in a big project which supposed that she received a lot of calls from people asking for instructions on how to subscribe to a program. Those people needed to send us a copy of some documents. I told my friend to instruct callers to send us xerox copies. She said it is not correct and she’s not going to do that, because it’s so wrong. I said OK. After the first ten calls, she realized I was right: absolutely all those people asked her if that copy needed to be a xerox one!!! For the sake of efficiency, we had to misuse words.

  10. Jen

    Holy cow there is so much I don’t know about computers it’s scary. Great post, I will have to print the thing out as a reference.

    I miss typewriters.

  11. Vivien

    Yes, Ronald, apparently URL is deprecated now, so you better start teaching your colleagues about URI :-)

    Simonne, I know what you mean. There are so many brand names that became part of our vocabulary, it’s not even funny. Sometimes my husband doesn’t understand when I say I need a tissue, but he reacts right away when I ask for a Kleenex :-)

    Jen, welcome to Inspiration Bit. Feel free to ask me any questions you have about computers. Don’t be afraid of them. Computers have no brains, they are nothing without people/programmers.

  12. Matt

    I have to say that your distinction between typeface and font is a little misleading. You suggest that font is the digital representation of a typeface, as i’m sure you know the terms typeface and font are rather older than the digital age and both have their etymology in the physical world of the typesetter and printer.

    Typeface is the collective title for a set of fonts, a font being a specific size and weight. For example Arial is the typeface and Arial 14px bold is the font. To say that Arial is a font is technically incorrect; to say that Times New Roman at 10pt is a font would be correct.

    Having said that, the modern use of both words has become interchangeable and only typographic sticklers would get upset by misuse.

  13. Thanks for your clarification, Matt. But I think that since we now live in a digital world, my distinction between typeface and font is not that misleading. And I did specify that “Font is the variation of type in styles (bold, italic) and sizes (12pt, 1in).”
    Also some typefaces don’t have a “set of fonts”, and contain only one type.

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on