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I am looking for a word or phrase for the following phenomenon:

A letter in a text that has a different typeface than the surrounding text for no good reason, such as the letter s in all of the following:

English Language
English Language
Engli𝔰h Language
Engli𝚜h Language

This phenomenon was typical for movable type but also occurrs with other technology, if a special character was not supported by the employed typeface.

Why do I think that such a term might exist? Because the German language has one: Zwiebelfisch. Unfortunately the translations suggested by dictionaries are not accurate at all:

  • I think this is the definition of a typographical error because it is, in fact, an error in the typography/typesetting. – Jim Nov 2 '15 at 16:51
  • @Jim: It is a kind of typographical error, but it’s certainly not the only kind. Typographical error would be too broad for me. – Wrzlprmft Nov 2 '15 at 16:55
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    If you had to have a special word for that particular case I think I'd just use Zwiebelfisch and be prepared to explain it at first use. My guess is that even if there were an English word that meant the same thing, you'd have to explain that too. – Jim Nov 2 '15 at 16:59
  • A quick Google search seems to show that, for the general German public, Zwiebelfisch can, indeed, be used to describe a simple typo. – Tim Ward Nov 5 '15 at 15:44
  • @TimWard: I do not what exactly you found, but be careful on interpreting Google searches of that word. Zwiebelfisch is also the name of a popular newspaper column on the German language. I strongly doubt that most Germans will be aware of that name’s origin or use it to refer to a typo. – Wrzlprmft Nov 7 '15 at 8:52
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There's some debate about where the English phrase "out of sorts" comes from; since the individual characters of a typeface were called a "sort", it's feasible that "out of sorts" originally meant to run out of a needed "sort" for typesetting. A common method of dealing with that would be to employ a different "sort" in a different typeface - which would look like your zwiebelfisch.

It's not likely that anyone will know what you mean using that phrase though, as it basically means "not orderly" at this point. Since we no longer deal with manual typesetting, we'd probably just call it a "missing glyph" or "wrong font" at this point.

Thinking about this a bit more, I think "odd sort" is likely the closest English translation. It describes a member of a set (a sort) that is unlike the others (odd). A common expression would be eg., "he's an odd sort of fellow" meaning he's different than your average person. Given "sort" history with typesetting, it's possible (though I have no references) that it originally described the exact scenario zwiebelfisch does. Though it has mostly lost any historical connection (if it, indeed, ever had any) it would still adequately describe a character printed differently than others around it.

"Odd fish" is another English term that may have some historical connection. An "odd fish" is a name for something that's of an "odd sort" (eg., he's an odd fish) and it would seem to share the same "fish" connection with zwiebelfisch. I'm not aware of English ever using "fish" as typesetting slang, but serif in Japanese is uroko - fish scales so perhaps there is a connection there.

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