> What is that little letter "o" with a line below it that is set so the top
> of the "o" is at the top of the em square and the line below it is about
> midways down. It is sometimes used in the abbreviation for "number." As
> "N" + the character in question.
> Not to lay to much on the group at once but people used to abbreviate
> like this a lot. The name "William" for example would be abbreviated as
> plus a little "m" with a line below it as described for the "o".
These characters are normally referred to as the masculine and feminine
ordinals used in Spanish typography.
The underline beneath letters may have originated in handwriting. However,
I believe it found its way into typesetting via the typewriter. Typewriters
used monospaced characters. Many times the characters tended to bounce
around the baseline due to the mechanical nature of the beast. To avoid
confusing the a or o ordinals with a lowercase a or o that may have
*bounced*, the underline was added. In addition, since the characters were
monospaced, the size and width of the ordinals were almost the same design
as their lowercase counterparts. This similarity could also lead to
confusion. Once again, a reason for the underline.
One of the reasons the underline disappeared from modern digital fonts is
due to anamorphic scaling of characters to form ordinals, superiors, and
inferiors. As foundries created their digital libraries, it saved
production time and storage space to create these characters automatically
by shifting and scaling the base lowercase and figures. The scaling along
the x-axis was not as great as the y scaling to try to preserve stem weights
of these characters. Though this saved time, space, and resources, a scaled
ordinal, superior,or inferior, will never equal a character specifically
designed for this purpose.
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