Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is there a name to describe the situation where a particular character is shown on a computer screen in a particular font, but this font does not have a glyph for this particular character?

Usually, the result looks like this: □

A kind of empty rectangle. Sometimes it shows the code for that character within the rectangle.


What do yo call this phenomenon?

If there is no name, is there a common term referring to this "rectangle"?

Some Japanese people call this "tofubake" because rectangles look like tofu.

(It is not mojibake. Mojibake happens when character encoding meta-information is lost. It is not the problem here. Using a better font solves this phenomenon, but does not solve mojibake. Selecting a character encoding solves mojibake, but does not solve this phenomenon.)

share|improve this question
I like glyphlessness. It only has two google hits, so it could use a few more. – David Schwartz Mar 28 '12 at 10:13
I have just found one place where a person calls them "missing glyph squares" – Nicolas Raoul Mar 28 '12 at 10:56
Does this question belong on – zpletan Mar 28 '12 at 12:23
@zpletan: I hesitated a lot. I am asking for the English word to describe something. So I posted here. For the Japanese word I ask here: – Nicolas Raoul Mar 29 '12 at 2:40
Fair enough—just wanted to make sure you knew there might be another place to ask. If you knew and decided that this was the best place, I won't be the person to say you're wrong. – zpletan Mar 29 '12 at 2:43

3 Answers 3

The Unicode standard calls it a replacement glyph.

share|improve this answer
So the situation would be something like glyph replacement (e.g., a web page rendered unreadable because of glyph replacement.) – Brett Reynolds Mar 28 '12 at 12:29
I would say it was rendered unreadable because of missing glyphs, but this answer sounds right to me. – zpletan Mar 28 '12 at 14:40
In they are called "Interpretable but Unrenderable Character"... but probably nobody would understand me if I use that term. – Nicolas Raoul Mar 29 '12 at 5:13
Microsoft calls it "square" -- "Word cannot open the existing [square]" at – Andrew Leach Mar 29 '12 at 13:20
MS also uses "Square Symbol". Both my and Andrew's example appear to be really old articles that've been occasionally refreshed. It'd be interesting to see if MS has gotten more consistent in new ones; but I'm not sure how to force that out of a search engine. – Dan Neely Sep 18 '12 at 15:45

Glyph Replacement is too general a description (sorry, Unicode). That could mean that a font replaces 'HEAVY BLACK HEART'❤ with 'BLACK HEART SUIT' ♥ or even ampersand with plus. The phenomenon is not replacement, it is Glyph Failure. In practice, the □ codepoint is used as a Failure Glyph.

share|improve this answer
So, the word I am looking for would be "Failure Glyph", is that what you mean? Thanks! – Nicolas Raoul Mar 16 at 13:14

Google calls them 'tofu', too. They have a Google Font called Noto which is named (see the link) for 'no to tofu'.

When text is rendered by a computer, sometimes there will be characters in the text that can not be displayed, because no font that supports them is available to the computer. When this occurs, small boxes are shown to represent the characters. We call those small boxes “tofu,” and we want to remove tofu from the Web.

share|improve this answer
+1 Thanks! Actually I suspect the Japan team chose this name. While the word is indeed in use in Japan (as mentioned in my question), I am not sure whether it is the best word in English. – Nicolas Raoul Mar 17 at 3:09

protected by Mari-Lou A Feb 24 at 8:45

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.