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Putting this post together reminded me of another often-misunderstood feature of early English: the long s. It appears in familiar Early Modern English texts such as the Geneva and King James Bibles and the Declaration of Independence. If you’ve seen it, chances are you mistook if for an f.

And that irritates me. It’s not an f. It doesn’t even look like an f. Well, maybe sometimes it looks a little like an f. Okay, in certain typefaces, it looks a lot like an f. But it’s not an f. It’s an s. So stop ridiculing the Puritans and the Founding Fathers for using f in place of s.

Sorry for the outburst, but this is serious.

f  That is an f. This is a long s  ſ

I have tried to find definitive rules for the use of the ſ, but have been unable to find anything more definite than what I have observed as I have seen it used, so I’ll give you that.

ſ is lowercase-only. It never appears at the end of a word, only at the beginning and middle. In the case of a double ss, ſ is often combined with s, as in aſsume in the second line of the Declaration of Independence, but not always, as in the Geneva Bible: “And the light ſhineth in the darkneſſe” (John 1:5).

The ſ faded out of use early in the nineteenth century.

And that’s about all I know about that ſubject, ſo there.


Posted 2017·05·26 by David Kjos
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