The Fourth Letter — D

Sometimes the original symbol’s meaning is entirely lost when one culture adopts the shape from another. The shape itself is still useful, its just that the flow of logic in the determination of the shape form is interrupted. Such is the case with the letter ‘D’. In the Egyptian alphabet we see the ‘D’ as the symbol deret, meaning ’a hand’, but by the time the Phoenician adopted the symbol, the original meaning was lost and the lettershape was called daleth, meaning door. Door or hand, the Greeks didn’t care, because to them the letterform represented the basic shape named delta. We still see this root in many words today, such as deltoid, or river delta, meaning a triangular shape.

This basic triangular shape was rotated so that the horizontal base became a vertical, and even the Greeks rounded opposite angle at times. The Etruscans kept the rounded version in their writing.

Enter the Romans with their curving ways and we end up with one of the most graceful letters in the alphabet.


The “D” is one of those letters which look like they ought to be constructed out of simple straight lines and arcs of a circle; it can’t be (or rather, the good ones aren’t). The straight vertical stroke of the “D” can be just that; but in many alphabet designs (at times. even those with sans serif characteristics) there is a slight swelling at the stroke ends. If this subtle trait is part of the character, then an even subtler one is also necessary:. the bottom swelling must be just slightly heavier than the top.

The curved part of the letter is also deceptively more complicated than it would seem. From the top of the vertical stroke, it turns slightly upward and decreases a little in width, its thickest part is always.a just a little heavier than the straight stroke. and it is carried below the mathematical center of the letter (at about “four o’clock”).The curve then joins with a strong,yet graceful connection at the bottom of the vertical. This gives the letter a firm foundation on which to sit.

If serifs are part of the design, the lower one is normally a little bigger than the top, to give the character good base. All this complicated construction serves to make the finished letter appear optically correct; and, in serif design, to make it look like it was drawn with a flat end brush. “D”s are difficult to construct, but easy to draw.

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

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