Compare the carved and incised "sacred glyphs" hieroglyphs, which have had a longer history in English dating from the first Elizabethan translation of Plutarch, who adopted "hieroglyphic" as a Latin adjective.
In typography, a glyph is a particular graphical representation, in a particular typeface, of a grapheme, or sometimes several graphemes in combination (a composed glyph), or a part of a grapheme. In computing as well as typography, the term character refers to a grapheme or grapheme-like unit of text, as found in natural language writing systems (scripts). It may be a letter, a numeral, a punctuation mark, or a pictographic or decorative symbol such as dingbats. A character or grapheme is an abstract unit of text, whereas a glyph is a graphical unit.
For example, the sequence ffi contains three characters, but can be represented by one glyph, the three characters being combined into a single unit known as a ligature. Conversely, some typewriters require the use of multiple glyphs to depict a single character (for example, two hyphens in place of an em-dash, or an overstruck apostrophe and period in place of an exclamation mark).
Most typographic glyphs originate from the characters of a typeface. In a typeface each character typically corresponds to a single glyph, but there are exceptions, such as a font used for a language with a large alphabet or complex writing system, where one character may correspond to several glyphs, or several characters to one glyph.