Heh, I found that out later. Kind of like xfce4-terminal options - you can set them but if the settings window is too large, an escape will get you out and retain the settings.
It all hinges on getting the native cli font right for me before going into X. The system font seems to hinge on a 4x3 format, so the 480p/wide, or 864x480 edited in my config.txt file filled the screen perfectly and native cli fonts are beautifully clean and legible, even with colored text. So much so that I added the multivt option to the boot stanza. No settings on the monitor itself were changed.
Moving into X, the wBAR and included utils seems to rely on the system font, and are designed for a 4x3 or perhaps the older vga 640x480 standard. Ok cool - on a 16:9 screen that can do 480p, then the 864x480 resolution makes the wBAR stuff operate as designed. Clean and legible, proper sizing of fonts, sliders, default geometries, etc.
I think I understand why aterm is a little finicky about changing fonts. It too relies upon the standard system font, and changing it would bring chaos in extensions that rely on it - like the htop extension. Clicking the icon version, rather than pulling it up in a terminal yourself, would totally break if the system font wasn't more or less locked down. I think.
Anyway, I'm not trying to nitpick PiCore / TC. The more I work with it, the more I love it, not just for being tiny, but by being *smart* about resources. The unix ethos I suppose. And if I don't like something, I've got the tools to do something about it.
At this point my OpenBSD buddies would tell me to just "shut up and code."