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This seems like simple question... but I cannot track down any useful answers.

It's easy to find lots of fonts with "gothic" in their names. But what makes a font a "gothic" font?

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I see the answers have defined Gothic -- but see also myfonts.com/search/gothic/fonts which gives a completely different meaning to the term. –  Andrew Leach May 12 '12 at 16:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

They are based off actual scripture from the Gothic period in history. See this wonderful link by Project Gutenberg, Chapter 3 covers Gothic: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20590/20590-h/20590-h.htm

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Excellent link. In an effort to make the Q & A more self-contained, I will accept this answer also answer my own question with a few quotes from the article. –  mdahlman May 11 '12 at 20:18

Ryan's suggested article really is excellent: LETTERS & LETTERING: A TREATISE WITH 200 EXAMPLES. Here are a few quotes to summarize the definition of "Gothic" fonts.

The name "Gothic" applies rather to the spirit than to the exact letter forms of the style. The same spirit of freedom and restlessness characterises the architecture of the period wherein this style of letter was developed; and Gothic letters are in many ways akin to the fundamental forms of Gothic architecture.

So... Gothic fonts can be recognized by their free and restless spirit.

medieval scribes used the Round Gothic as an easy and legible handwritten form, and linked many of the letters.

And Gothic fonts should all be legible, containing some interlinking forms.

In lieu of any detailed analysis of these letter shapes, it may perhaps be sufficient to say that they were wholly and exactly determined by the position of the quill, which was held rigidly upright, after the fashion already described in speaking of Roman lettering; and that the letters were always formed with a round swinging motion of hand and arm, as their forms and accented lines clearly evidence

Bracchial gyrations and erect quill posture appear to be critical factors as well.

But the best advice is to just look at the samples.

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"Bracchial Gyrations and Erect Quill Posture" sounds like the title of the third chapter of Keyboard Kinks: Your GUI Guide To Erotic Typesetting. –  Lauren Ipsum May 11 '12 at 23:47

A Gothic typeface is not at all anything like medieval lettering. It actually comes from grotesk, or grotesque which began around 1900. It's basically a synonym for sans-serif and it a movement that originated in the Scandinavian area and widely applied by the bauhaus.

Hence Akzidenz-Grotesk, and hence Century Gothic.. and pretty much any typeface with that name in it.

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