A Diſcourſe upon the “Long s”



Yesterday I posted the endearingly vague book title shown above (which is actually from a book by Robert Boyle). When it appeared on Facebook I got some predictably rude comments about “fuch kind of thoughts”, etc, so I thought I’d post a little comment about the symbol “ſ'” which appears in the above. This character is sometimes called the “long s”. There’s a full Wikipedia article on this which there’s no point in repeating here, but I will just mention that the long s was used widely in manuscripts after the distinction arose better upper case and lower-case letters (which was around about the end of the 8th Century) where in the lower-case form, the “short s” (i.e. s) was used exclusively at the end of words or before an elision, and the long s everywhere else. It survived into the era of printing, not just in English but also in other languages including German. In fact “ſ” forms the left-hand element of the ligature “Eszett”, written  “ß”, of which the other part is “z”.

The long s fell increasingly out of favour in typography, partly because of the potential confusion with “f”, and partly because using the same “s” throughout a word is clearly tidier and easier to read: “sinfulness” is a lot easier on the eye than “”ſinfulneſs”. By the start of the 19th Century the long s had become a rarity; The Times phased out “ſ” in 1803.

Oh, and the long s is also the original form of the integral sign, introduced to mathematics by Leibniz to stand for “summa” (sum), which he wrote “ſumma”.

5 Responses to “A Diſcourſe upon the “Long s””

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Where the bee sucks, there suck I…

  2. Adrian Burd Says:

    I’m wondering about the typeface. I was thinking a version of a Garamond, but the majuscule R is not right, and neither is the minuscule o, it’s too compressed, and the dot over the i is far too large. The choice of typefaces for various printed scientific works throughout the ages is an interesting topic to idle away the time with.
    I do think that the quality of printing for the page shown is not great — inconsistent letter spacing, baselines shifting etc. — but not too bad for the age.

  3. I had no idea the German B (I can’t find the symbol on my iPod) was a fusion like that. This is the biggest surprise since I learned & was ‘Et’ written compactly.

  4. Reblogged this on Io non ci volevo venire! and commented:
    Trilussa dixit:
    Ho trovato un libbretto tutto rotto,
    antico assai, che drento cianno messe
    l’effe a li posti indove ce va l’esse,
    ch’io bello che so legge m’inciappotto.

    Però er padrone mio, ch’è un omo dotto,
    me lo spiegò jersera e me lo lesse:
    Se c’è badeffe s’ha da di’: badesse;
    fotto, presempio, cambi e dichi: sotto.

    C’è er racconto d’un povero infelice,
    condannato ar patibolo innocente,
    che s’arivorta ar popolo e je dice:

    – Compagni! Abbaffo il Re! Viva la forca! –
    Be’, devi legge tutto diferente:
    – Compagni! Abbasso il Re! Viva la sorca! –

  5. […] character is sometimes called the “long s”*. There’s a full Wikipedia article on this and I have posted about it before which means there’s no point in repeating here, but I will just mention that the long s was used […]

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