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”.Follow @telescoper