The Third Letter — C

One of the oddities of alphabets is that sometimes a character will represent a number of different sounds depending upon the surrounding characters of the whole word. For instance in Chinese the word is very dependent on what characters are on either side. I wonder if there are different studies in China for dyslectics.

In some alphabets, the various sounds can become important enough to stand with lettershapes of their own. Very often the new lettershapes show a family resemblance to the old. In our case the letter ‘C’ is a family relation to the letter ‘G’, with the ‘G’ sound coming first, but the ‘G’ letter coming last.

Funny story, the Romans didn’t have much use for the Greek letter Z which was right after F in their alphabet, so they threw it out. Then they had an idea, well, Spurius Ruga had an idea, he split the two sounds of “C” and created the letter “G” for the older sound and placed it in the “Z” spot.

The “C” kept only the softer sound. The problem came up when so much of the literature was Greek and needed some of the Greek only letters, so “Z” came back in to the alphabet but found “C”s cousin “G” in the old spot so, “Z” had to go to the end of the line. Hard feelings between the two ever since.

The Egyptians used a symbol that looked like a corner and it represented officialdom, the Ethiopic versions looked more like a boomerang and they called it by their word for this, gamal. The Phoenicians named it gimel, and if that sounds like our word for camel then we can see the pictographic root of a long camel neck and hump. The sound it represented was similar to our “gee”.

The Greeks reversed and flopped as they were wont to do, and called it gamma. The Romans use this lettershape to represent the softer (gay) sound but added a barb to the ‘C’ shape creating a ‘G’. That left the original ‘C’ shape to handle the harder (kay) sound. So, it is not an accident that the ‘C’ and ‘G’ are similar in shape.


The “C” is approximately. as. wide as it is high. Like other round characters, the “C” .should also be.slightly taller than the height of an “H”. This and a slight increase in stroke weight ensures that the character does not look light and small.

In a Roman alphabet, the top serif is larger than the bottom serif. Weight stress of the main curve is also slightly below center.

In san serif romanized typefaces there is a slight thinning of the stroke weight at the top and bottom of the character, normally with slightly less thinning at the bottom than at the top. Of course in pure sans serif it is uniform all around. The bottom terminal generally extends just a little beyond the top.

With credit to Allen Haley,
Upper & Lower Case magazine, a typographic centered publication last published from 1970 to 1999.

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