What is a dingbat ?

I have been in print nearly all my work life . i have no idea what a ding bat is can someone please enlighten me ?
I have heard it somewhere and for some reason desk top publishing comes to mind but i dont recall hearing that in a pressroom . An uhmlaut ( ? ) is an accent on german text ,a full stop goes on the end of a sentence . where do you put a ding bat ? In your sports bag ?

Log in to reply   13 replies so far

A dingbat is a small decorative element. In my experience, it has referred to a piece of type with an image other than a letter of the alphabet on it. In desktop publishing parlance, a dingbat is any font character which is not alphabetic.

The term came to national prominence in the last century when Archie on the TV show “All in the Family” referred to his wife Edith as a “dingbat”. Could we interpret that to mean that she was a character that didn’t make any sense?

J Henry

Thanks , i was beginning to think i have lost the plot , however your explanation is of help as in itself it appears to describe an oddity .

The term is traditional in US letterpress, but the Zapf Dingbat digital font is among the first 35 PostScript fonts, so there is some continuity there.

And postscript fonts are those used in the DTP world are they not ? I am not computor literate but i come across the term somewhere and i just happened across a thread on here and wondered . If nothing else i have one of those brains that just wont stop grinding away till i know what it is . As you all would know we dont stop learning in this game . again thanks for the info . funny enough i just found a box with a disc of tru-type fonts in the lock up , now i shall find how to make them available unless someone out there can get round the law so it can be picked from on briar .
Found in box ; Omicron systems CLP 020-PCX Clipart No4
and Omicron FON020 Truetype fonts No 4

dingbat |ˈdiNGˌbat| informal
1 a stupid or eccentric person mishandling metal type, typography locked in a chase that becomes pied or any other improper work in the print shop.
2 a typographical device other than a letter or numeral (such as an asterisk), used to signal divisions in text or to replace letters in a euphemistically presented vulgar word.
ORIGIN mid 19th cent. (in early use applied to various vaguely specified objects): origin uncertain; perhaps based on obsolete ding ‘to beat, deal heavy blows.’ Sense 1 dates from the early 20th cent.

According to Websters:

Dingbat n. [origin unknown] : a typographical ornament ( as a bullet or a star0 used typically to call attention to an opening sentence or to make a break between two paragraphs.

It does not show up in the Oxford English Dictionary, which leads one to believe that it, like the term ‘devil’s tail’, are American in origin.


I am english ,with OED and some education (nearly 50 yrs worth ) would agree its an american term ,not familiar in use over here but seemed to appear with the age of computors . Funnily enough only hours after posting the question on here i found the discs mentioned earlier and what have they featured on them ? fonts and dingbats !!

Before the Internet, US and UK printers didn’t have much direct contact. Thanks to web forums like BriarPress, we are misunderstanding each other as we never could before.

Yes. Someone indicated that Archie Bunker was responsible for making the term dingbats famous (1979). I would suggest that Apple Computer (1977) and Zapf Dingbats (1978) all coincided about the same time. Hermann Zapf should have been as familiar to most designers and type students in England and the US around that time.

The shop i spent most of my career in was still running 10 cylinders and three or four h platens among the litho machines in 1989, I think i heard the term dingbat among the guys using green screen typesetting computors in about 1992 , yes there were some proper old stuff around even that late in years .
i am an engineering printer pressman there fore as comfortable with a pile of press parts as working press ,i had the most unusual type of training but has stood me in good stead , only had to find out what that daft word was!!!

One of the advantages I’ll grudgingly admit for the present century is the ability to search vast quantities of material quickly. So I went to Google Books and put “dingbat printing type” (without the quotes) in the must-contain field of the advanced search, and then set the maximum publication date further and further back.

The earliest use I could find was from 1912, in the journal “The Printing Art.” In Vol. 20, No. 2 (October, 1912), p. 140, within an article “High Class Printing Possible in the Small Shop,” it says of high-class printing:

“Nor does it mean the indiscriminate use of flubdubs and florets, niching and dingbats, flowerpots and hollyhocks.”

[Google Books hasn’t released this volume for viewing, but the same digitization, of the Princeton University copy, is online at The Hathi Trust. Hathi ID njp.32101079227763 ]

The term would seem to have entered the formal vocabulary at about this time, as it appears in the Glossary of “First Steps in Job Composition” by Camille de Veze (which was a part of the Typographic Technical Series for Apprentices (Part II, No. 18) published by the United Typothetae of America. It has this definition of “Floret” on p. 49:

“Florets - Small ornaments; generally conventionalized leaves. Also called, humorously, dingbats, flubdubs, etc.”

BTW, in 1910, 61 years before the first broadcast of “All in the Family,” George Herriman (famous for his later Krazy Kat) started a cartoon strip “The Dingbat Family”.

Apparently this topic has merited some discussion in the history-of-comics community, for a site at


has an “explanation” which derives the name of the comic (dingbat) from the term as used by printers - and further attributes the printers’ term to the sounds made by a Linotype. I would be quite suspicious of this, if only because while my Linotype makes many sounds, I’ve never heard it emit “ding” “bat.” Perhaps I simply lack imagination.

David M.


The derivation is of interest. An old printer once told me the term came from the sound of a piece of type being thrown by a compositor at a devil who has missplaced a sort during the distribution of a spent galley. Or something along that line.

Thanks so much, David, for those references. You are good with Google! I was humbled, however, to read this sentence in the address by Mr. Harry S. Stuff:

Now, high-class printing does not mean turning out an extraordinary piece of work once in a while. That’s accidental.

I think I shall print that!