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What are serifs for?

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Hello to all!

As some of you may know, I've been writing type-related articles at [[http://learn.scannerlicker.net|learn.scannerlicker.net]]. So I want to ask you guys (that are way more knowledgeable than I am at the subject) the following two questions:

  1. What are serifs for; what's their function?
  2. Why did sans-serif fonts became more used than serif ones?

I have my own theories about it and I'll post them here in due time.

Thank you in advance for helping me out!

Cheers!