The Many Definitions of a Glyph

Words, Symbols and Meaning

child writing letters
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You may come across glyphs in your children's classwork or homework. What does it mean?

Glyph Definition

"Glyph" has a number of meanings in different disciplines. In archeology, a glyph a written or inscribed symbol. A good example would be the famous hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. A glyph may be a pictogram, which conveys a particular object or action with a picture. Or it may be an ideogram, where the symbol is intended to invoke an idea.

The bar across the letter "U" on a "no U-turns" sign is an example of an ideogram; it communicates that a particular action is prohibited. A glyph may also convey a sound, and as such, the letters of the alphabet are glyphs. Another way to use glyphs for written language are logograms, in which each symbol conveys a single word. The images commonly used in texting (emojis) are beginning to become logograms, but as of yet the intent of each symbol is not always clear.

Glyphs in Typography

In typography, a glyph is the specific shape of a letter in a particular font or typeface. The letter "A" looks different as represented by different typefaces—the glyphs vary—but the letter's meaning remains constant throughout various typographical presentations. 

Glyphs for Kids

Much like hieroglyphics, glyphs can be used by children as a way to gather and depict data. For example, children may be presented with a drawing of a shirt.

The instructions of for the activity may be to color the shirt a particular hue if the student is a boy or a girl. From the completed picture, the reader of the symbol will learn something about the child who created the glyph. A legend will be part of the activity; this is the part that tells what each shape or picture stands for.

Glyphs can be used in the sciences, but also in math and social studies. Using glyphs is a great way to teach kids about symbols, which has wide application in various fields of study. 

Other Ways to Use Glyphs

Glyphs aren’t limited to use in schools or for kids’ learning activities. They are often used in the medicine as a way to record information. For example, doctors may use a pictorial outline of the human body on which to record injuries. Dentists have a picture chart of teeth on which they draw in the location and shape of cavities and other dental anomalies. In computing and information technology, a glyph is the graphical symbol which is used to represent a character. For example, the letter "A" is always the letter "A," and though it sounds the same whenever we say it, the glyph for the "A" in different fonts doesn’t always look the same. Nevertheless, it’s recognizable as the letter "A." If you've ever taken an airline flight, you've seen glyphs at work in the emergency cards in your seat. From assembling Lego models to IKEA furniture, the glyph is a helpful way to present information and guide processes.