Calligraphy synonyms are few but interesting.
As discussed elsewhere on this site, the word 'calligraphy' itself is pretty recent, having been coined in English from Greek elements in approximately 1600.
The useable synonyms I've found are:
Below, I go into much more depth on each of these and quite a few more.
This refers to a passage by Jerome (342–347 AD), the celebrated translator of biblical texts who produced the Latin Vulgate. In his introduction to the Book of Job, he says, in a somewhat snobbish manner (if you ask me):
Various scholars have debated what precisely 'litterae uncialis (ut vulgo aiunt)' might mean. Literally, of course, they are 'uncial letters' ... but Jerome is not obviously using the term to distinguish 'uncial' from any other style of calligraphic writing.
I'm not sure any other style of calligraphic writing existed in Latin at the time, except Roman capitals written onto the page (which were laborious, and rarely used).
I like this article
from 1916, which makes a case for Jerome contrasting his own simple but
correct writings with both (a) highly decorated manuscripts and (b)
manuscripts written in fancy uncial letters.
The passage about uncials by Jerome is paraphrased in English by Elmer Truesdell Merrill, the article's author, as:
A closer translation, by Kevin P. Edgecomb, is:
That is, Jerome uses 'litterae uncialis' (and let's not forget his 'ut vulgo aiunt', 'as they commonly say') to describe a style of Bible-writing that should be understood as an equivalent or alternative to 'gold and silver letters on purple pages', ie as a species of grande luxe in its own right.
To me, it sounds as though 'litterae uncialis' might have been commonly used in the fourth century AD to mean 'fancily/beautifully written letters' ... ie 'calligraphy' as we would now call it.
At the time 'calligraphy' was coined, the common existing synonym was:
(where 'fair' means 'fine-looking, beautiful', rather than 'acceptable, moderate').
This term was already used, and continued to be used, by various writing-masters, pen-men and other educators during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to refer to handwriting as an art, including (but not limited to):
Just half a century after the word 'calligraphy' appeared in English, we see the first word often listed in dictionaries today as a calligraphy synonym:
(1650s) 'handwriting, the art of writing by hand'; from Greek chiro, 'hand', and graphy, writing
It's curious that only two generations after 'calligraphy' was coined to mean 'beautiful (hand-)writing', another fancy Greek term should be adopted into English to signify almost the same thing. But, looking closer, it's not an exact synonym: 'chirography' doesn't necessarily mean 'beautiful handwriting'. The term is fancy; the writing itself, one supposes, might not be. 'Chirography' really is just an ostentatiously learned way of saying 'handwriting', pure and simple.
'Chirography' also really hammers home the point that the concept in question is 'handwriting not print: ABSOLUTELY NOT PRINT'. And it can mean, further, 'the study of handwriting and of how to write by hand'. (Not to be confused with 'palaeography' which is 'the study of ancient handwriting'.)
Later again, we find another coining – a closer synonym for 'calligraphy' – this time constructed out of English elements, not Greek:
(1690s) 'use of a pen (to write well), (quality of) handwriting'; from the older word 'penman', and '-ship', meaning 'the quality of being [something]'.
The seventeenth century saw the rise and rise of writing-masters. I imagine these new words helped competing instructors to distinguish themselves from each other and the teachers of the past. A (relatively) up-to-date jargon is useful for signalling that what you are doing is new, trending, and therefore desirable – nah fam this is 1695 penmanship, forget that 'chirography' shit your grandpa learnt as a boy.
'Penmanship' connotes highly visible performance, artistry, even of showing off to an audience: think of similarly constructed words such as 'showmanship', 'statesmanship', 'one-upmanship', 'brinkmanship', 'salesmanship', 'horsemanship', 'gamesmanship'. See what I mean? Compared with the classical overtones of 'calligraphy', 'penmanship' feels a bit wide-boy. Which tbh it probably was. You should hear Martin Billingsley's opinions about London's 'pen-men'.
Still, it's closer to a synonym for 'calligraphy' than 'chirography' is.
After 'penmanship', I have the impression that not much happens in calligraphy-synonyms-land for a while.
So I went looking in Edward Johnston, as he's the next big name to revive an interest in calligraphy with his Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering (1906).
Johnston uses the greatest number of writing-lettering-and-calligraphy synonyms in the smallest space that I have ever seen or could very well imagine. In just over three pages I found (emboldening is mine, all other typographic features are Johnston's):
Clearly, to Johnston – a man with a mission, if ever there was one – 'writing' is always 'handwriting', and best used to produce manuscripts (literally, 'handwrittens' – from Latin 'manus', meaning 'hand', and 'script', meaning 'written').
Further, Johnston thought 'handwriting' always ought to be beautiful, because making things beautiful seems to have been his rationale for making things at all:
Here's a list of the synonyms for (beautiful) (hand-) writing that Johnston uses in the passages quoted above, with my own rough interpretation of the different nuances of each as he seems to use them in his introduction:
letters by hand using a pen (expanding the usual idea of 'writing' from
'ordinary handwriting for everyday purposes' to something potentially larger and
use of the pen: writing, as above, but with the concept very clearly spelt out.
letter-making: forming letters by any means but, implicitly, most naturally with a pen because, as Johnston sees it, the pen is the foremost letter-making tool.
calligraphy: handwritten text consciously made beautiful in form and layout.
hand: a person's own, characteristic handwriting, or 'fist'.
the kind of writing typically produced by hand; note, Johnston
distinguishes between 'handwriting – which has potential to be
beautiful' and 'current handwriting', 'ordinary handwriting', etc.
lettering: production of letters by hand using a pen but not necessarily limited to calligraphy with a broad-edged nib.
lettering as a set of skills and techniques, the term formulated to
sound a bit Ye Olde Englisshe: very Arts & Crafts Movement. (In Old
English, by the way, I suppose 'calligraphy' could have been 'stæfcræft', which is quite zingy. On the
other hand (checking her OE dictionary) I find 'stæfcræft' also meant 'grammar', and 'learning, study' more generally, which detracts from the zinginess a tad.)
ordinary writing: everyday handwriting
and everyday lettering as found on signs, notices etc; Johnston believes
ordinary handwriting can be elevated to calligraphy through knowledge
scribbling: hurried, thoughtless or carefree everyday handwriting.
formal hand: careful, consciously formed handwriting for display or other formal use or effect.
book hand: formal hand suitable for use in a book: so, in an age of print, also highly legible.
'copy book' hand: practice handwriting towards a formal or book hand: Johnston gives uncial and half-uncial as examples, because they are early in the evolution of handwriting and therefore, in his view, primitive and suitable as starting-points for learning.
penmanship: brisk, beautiful, able handwriting – the handwriting of one who is educated and practised in what handwriting really is and can be.
Johnston, Edward, Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering (London, 1906)
Merrill, Elmer Truesdell, The 'Uncial' in Jerome and Lupus, Classical Philology 11:4 (October, 1916), pp. 452–457
Meynell, Sir Francis, RDI, 'Edward Cocker according to Cocker' (The Society for Italic Handwriting, 2009) (accessed 29 March 2021)