Word of the week TREBUCHET

What is a trebuchet?

When I was in England a few years ago, my wife took me and our children to Warwick Castle to see their reproduction of a trebuchet. It is the largest working siege machine in the world. The trebuchet is a medieval engine of war with a large counterweight that catapults heavy stones several hundred metres. It was the medieval heavy artillery.

What is the word origin?

The word, trebuchet, was an Anglo-Latin word taken directly from Old French for a siege engine. It had evolved from trabucher meaning to overturn or overthrow. The word was made up of tra- (from Latin trans- for displacement) and buc from Old French for trunk or bulk, which came originally from West Germanic buh.

How did Trebuchet font get its name?

I established Madrigal Communications and wanted to choose a standard font to use in all my communications. I thought having the Trebuchet MS font was a great idea because it was much more interesting than Arial and less conservative than Helvetica.

However, I was curious how a medieval siege engine gave its name to a modern Microsoft font. So I did a little bit of research.

The font was designed in 1996 by Vincent Connare, an in-house designer for Microsoft Typography Group at the time. Connare is perhaps slightly more famous for also creating Comic Sans. His font is a humanist sans serif designed for easy screen readability. One of Connare’s design intentions was to instil personality into the letters, while retaining clarity and readability. Those are great ambitions which we share.

The name originated from a conversation Contare had over lunch. An engineer brought to his attention a puzzle question posted on an internal email:

Can you make a Trebuchet that could launch a person from main campus to the new consumer campus about a mile away? Mathematically is it possible and how?

Contare thought that it would be a great name for a font that launches words across the Internet. So that is how the font got its name.

Some features of Trebuchet MS

The font has some unique features but a shortcoming is that the en-dash and hyphen are essentially indistinguishable, which for someone who knows can be very annoying.