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I was wondering why these two letters (capital 'I' and lowercase 'L') look the same in some fonts? Is there any historical reason?

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    Your question is not clear. Do you mean "do they look the same" in some fonts? Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 14:01
  • In black-letter typefaces they look nothing like each other. Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 14:43
  • @JamesMcLeod Yes. I'm sorry. I mean "look the same". Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 15:18
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    Bad font design?
    – terdon
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 16:31
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    @terdon No, in sans-serif fonts they're just vertical lines. How is it bad font design if two vertical lines look exactly the same? They do!
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 17:18

2 Answers 2

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Each letter evolved from alphabets and symbols of previous languages. The letter I came from the Greek letter iota and the Phoenician yodh. The letter L traces back to lambda in Greek, and the Phoenician lamedh (evidently, some believe these ancestors of L may have been formed based on the shape of a shepherd's staff). You can read more about each letter's history on Wikipedia's pages (here are the links to I and L), and an excellent entry on homoglyphs can be found here. Many print dictionaries have even longer commentaries about the evolution of each letter.

In any case, I don't think the designers of the English alphabet said, "Let's put in two characters that look almost the same!" The letters just happened to evolve the way that they did from earlier alphabets.

Early typewriters sometimes took advantage of these similarities. Many early typewriters didn't even have a 1 key; the numerals started at "2", and typists used a lower-case l to type a numerical "1".

Such similarities may have helped keep the manufacturing costs of a typewriter down low, but look-alike symbols became more problematic in the programming age, so many font designers today take care to keep each character looking distinct. Even o and O and 0 don't look exactly the same in this site's Ge0rgia [sic] font, and the monospaced font makes the zero character (0) look even more unique.

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  • Some typists used capital Eye instead of lower case ell for one. Note year "I9I3" slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2013/02/05/…. Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 18:44
  • Regarding recent edits which have been approved by the community, I wonder if J.R. would term that entry as being "excellent". I shall never understand the need of some to either cut out chunks or add in chunks (however small) to user's posts. Fix the grammar, typos, formatting and improve generic titles, but add "words" and "opinions" to someone's piece?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 4, 2015 at 12:25
  • @Mari-LouA - It could have been a comment instead of an edit, but no big deal either way.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 0:00
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In some sans-serif fonts they look almost the same and are difficult to tell apart. These glyphs can also be confused with the pipe character or the number one. This is especially so in a small font size. Also the capital letter "O" and the number zero can look deceivingly similar. A number of Microsoft products uses just such a font in a number of dialog boxes where you type some code, which is very frustrating, as you cannot change the font or size. When you resize such a font to about 20px you can tell those glyphs apart readily.

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  • Yes i know. But why? They are clearly confusing, so what was the point? Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 15:50
  • @PedramBehroozi Poor design, of course, is the only actual answer possible here.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 17:44
  • It's actually fine design. Those fonts aren't meant to be used at small sizes. The reason is: those glyphs in those font designs and in small sizes are not discernible to human eyes. I thought that's obvious.
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 13:54

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