A Missing Letter's Blank Box Is Called Tofu

The blank box that appears when a character is missing from a font is technically called .notdef for "notdefined," but in everyday parlance, it's called "tofu." For English speakers, tofu is a minor annoyance, cropping up when someone tries to write a foreign word in a special font or text iPhone-specific emojis to an Android user. But in some languages—specifically those not supported by Unicode, the consortium on software internationalization standards—it's a big problem. Even if your language is supported, the way that computer platforms collect international fonts can make writing in two languages a jarring experience, with one font stylistically different than the other.

That's why Google spent five years in partnership with Adobe and Monotype creating a font that encompassed every single character in more than 800 languages. They call the font Noto, for "no more tofu." It's designed to appear stylistically seamless from language to language, regardless of whether that's scripts such as Arabic and Tibetan, stick-straight characters such as Runic, or languages with a more geometric bent such as English and French. But most importantly, every character is accounted for—all 110,000 of them. Learn more about fonts and languages in the videos below.

Creating Noto

Find out how the company Monotype helped create the new font.

The Psychology of Fonts

You might not think about them too often, but fonts are pretty important.

The History of Writing Systems

What if writing didn't exist?

Written by Curiosity Staff October 27, 2016

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