What’s Up With the Wingdings Font?

(Last Updated On: April 2, 2023)

If you’re in the age range where you were messing with word processors in school as a kid, you probably have a vague memory of that Wingdings font in Microsoft Word. There were also different variants of Wingdings, if you poked around with Wingdings at all, you probably remember Wingdings 2, Wingdings 3, or the one just called “Symbols.” Unless you know how to actually use these fonts, you probably just learned what each symbol corresponded to on your keyboard or something. Then used it as some kind of code because that’s what kids do. All of that, or you just remember using older versions of Microsoft Word as an adult, but never had to experiment with the Wingdings font and now you want to know why it exists. So what’s up with the Wingdings font?

What Is Wingdings?

We should probably start with what Wingdings as a font even is. Wingdings is a specific type of font, called a dingbat font. In typography, dingbats are also known as “printer’s characters,” and you can understand them as unique symbols or characters in typesetting. You might also see dingbats outlining text as an ornament. You know, like those curvy lines that go around words to make them special. Instead of having to manually create these unique symbols every time, typesetters just had these stamps on hand that could be mixed and matched. This way, typesetters didn’t have to carve unique ones for every combination of letters that could go inside an ornamental frame. 

Wingdings was developed in 1990, licensed from Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes by Microsoft for use in Windows. The font would appear in Windows 3.1 in 1992 and was patented in 1993. Our first version of Wingdings was made up of mostly shapes and widely recognized symbols like some religious iconography, arrows, zodiac signs, and versions of the ampersand. Wingdings 2 and Wingdings 3 just expanded on this.

Unicode

The name “Unicode” probably rings at least a few bells. You probably know Unicode as the sequence of letters (U+[some sequence of numbers and letters]) that go with your emojis. For example, the Unicode for the smiley face emoji is “U+263A.” The thing about Unicode is that it wasn’t widely adopted until after 2010, so there was no unicode for, say, the square (U+25A1) in the 90s. 

The intention for Wingdings, then, was never to be typed. It was so you could just copy-paste its symbols into a body of text without having to make it an image or anything. If you’ve ever used a word processor like Microsoft Word, you know the absolute nightmare that is trying to get an image into a document. Wingdings, then, were just a computer version of a dingbat—since the symbols weren’t included in Unicode yet. That’s actually where the name comes from, it’s a portmanteau of “Windows” and “dingbat.” 

Wingdings and 9/11

There was once a conspiracy theory that Wingdings were somehow connected to the attack on the New York World Trade Center. Typing “NYC” in Wingdings yields this: “🕱✡🖒,” which was taken to mean the Jewish were behind 9/11. “Q33NY” in Wingdings returns “✈🖹🖹🕱✡,” which along with the previous conspiracy theory was taken to mean Microsoft was also behind 9/11. 

But the reality behind Wingdings and 9/11 is much more boring, as you’ve probably figured from reading this post up to this point. Wingdings essentially binds all these symbols to letters on your keyboard, and there are a lot of keys and a lot of symbols. It just so happens that this is how the symbols were bound. Back in the 90s when Wingdings first started kicking around, and humans are pretty good at projecting meaning onto things that are relatively meaningless. 


Speaking of fonts, see if you know your typefaces here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.

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