Ambrose Li

I wonder how many fonts out there have a usable ordn feature

(updated )

While working on a translated version of my site, I accidentally discovered that Lato’s ordn (ordinal) feature produces glyphs that can’t be used, because they’re not the same size as the Unicode ordinal a (ª) and ordinal o (º) glyphs.

Lato’s ordn glyphs are too small; correctly sized glyphs can be synthesized by scaling regular glyphs by 66% then shifting them up 1.3ex (and ideally scaling up the weight, by 1.5).

I wouldn’t have faulted them for making this mistake, except Lato was designed in Poland; but on second thought, maybe Polish doesn’t use superscripted ordinal endings? A Spanish-speaking designer who’d be used to seeing ordinal a and o or a French-speaking designer who’d have to deal with ordinal e, r and s and expect them to look exactly like ordinal o[Note 1] (or perhaps even an old-fashioned English-speaking designer who wants ordinal d, h, n, r, s and t) would probably have had more of an incentive to make sure the two sets of ordinal glyphs looked consistent.

(Actually, I’d imagine a French-speaking designer would probably have designed the whole set of ordinal-sized letters from a to z since using superscripts to indicate abbreviations seems to be alive and well in French‍[Note 2] unlike in English where the practice is still used in the wild but frowned upon by professionals.‍[Note 3])

My hunch was this is probably a widespread problem but after randomly checking some fonts on my hard drive, I found that most fonts that support sups (superscript)‍[Note 4] actually got it right.

The first font I checked was Minion InDesign’s default font and it got it right. Alegreya, JuniusX and Manuele fonts designed either by Spanish speakers or Mediaevalists also got it right. Most fonts don’t even support sups.

It looks like familiarity with superscripted endings does make a difference, even if it’s just the two Unicode glyphs. If a Spanish-speaking designer bothers to implement sups (and presumably ordn), it looks like it will be done right.


  1. Aurel Ramat and Anne-Marie Benoit, Le Ramat de la typographie, 10th ed. (Montreal: Anne-Marie Benoit éditrice, 2012), 37, under “Pluriel et féminin des abréviations”.
  2. Ramat and Benoit, Le Ramat de la typographie, 37, 42, 55, 58.
  3. I’d imagine that, like certain typographic practices in Chinese languages that died out, the practice probably died out because computers back then couldn’t handle it.
  4. My version of InDesign doesn’t support ordn.