« Without serifs: a sans by any other name
Recently, a question by Cynthia Batty on the ATypI mailing list led me to do a quick survey on what we call typefaces without serifs. Click here to take survey.
Here are the results of my little survey. There have been over 300 responses. It’s certainly not a random sample, mostly people deeply involved with typography in some way. Interestingly, the results didn’t really vary by expertise level. (The order of the possible answers was randomly varied so as not to influence the answers, btw.)
- “sans serif” 68%
- “sans-serif” 27%
- “sanserif” 2%
- other 3%
The most common comments under “other” were that it should be “sans serif” as a noun and “sans-serif” as an adjective (for example, “a sans-serif typeface”). Certainly if the noun form is “sans serif” then standard English usage would dictate that the compound adjective would be hyphenated.
Another common response was that “sans” is an acceptable informal shorthand for “sans serif.”
Finally, it seems that despite a bit of solid support in the UK for “sanserif,” that spelling is neither particularly widely used nor accepted. The Oxford English Dictionary accepts it and dates it back to 1830, and the Oxford University Press, Robert Bringhurst (The Elements of Typographic Style) and eminent professors James Mosley and Michael Twyman all use it, as does typographer and typography author Robin Kinross. I must confess to not much liking “sanserif” myself.
[Edited to correct spelling of "Mosley" and add a little more detail on "sanserif," and again to add Bringhurst the to list of "sanserif" supporters.]