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Whats with S and F


Sep 14, 2001
Wellington New Zealand
While doing history at school, i noticed old stuff always had a F where the s should be. whats with that?
I believe he means on scrips, there something that looks like an "f", or a very tall, curly s with a line through it.
I think it was some sort of medieval scripting in the same way that the 'the' used back then looys like ye today. references may be found in the Flanders and Swan commentary to Greensleeves, and at the end of the Terry Pratchett novel 'The Science of Discworld II, the Globe'.
Nah, i remeber history books from the American Revolution and Elizabethian england. All the Old writing had f where s should be, But not the first letter like leffer action might suffer a suffuful soup.
Yes, that's just an old style of writing, you can - atleast around here where German is spoken - see this in restaurant names on buildings for examples, or on all old texts...

mfG mitsho
MattII said:
I think it was some sort of medieval scripting in the same way that the 'the' used back then looys like ye today.

"Ye" is actually the result of the fact that English originally had another letter which was called Thorn and meant the sound th. It looked like this þ

When the first printing presses arrived from the continent there was no letter Thorn on the type so the letter Y was used in its place. It was however still meant to be pronounced as th so "Ye" should be said "The" or rather "þe".
That's no f. It's a ſ. You should read historical books more carefully ;). Admittedly, online texts are often indeed using the incorrect letter.

In Germany, Fraktur typeface was predominant over the antiquas elsewhere until ~1900, and for a short time during 3rd Reich again.
While it IMHO does look nicer, it has several limitations; at foremost, italics and bold isn't available.
Wiki: Fraktur

But, in many other languages the 'long s' ſ was in use until mid of 20th century. That letter is definitely distinguable from 'f' (the missing crossbar) - but unfortunately, while it is an unicode character (#383), it often isn't displayed or printed correctly. Like you cannot type it into a link; see the wiki entry...
Wiki: Long s
Yes, it's a long S, not an F. Commonly used in English until round about the early nineteenth century, I think. You will see it all the time in eighteenth-century books. It is only used to replace some Ss, though, so you will see ſ and S sometimes in the same word. Rather like σ and ς in Greek.

I think different languages stopped using it at different times. It's easy to read in English but it can make other languages most difficult - I remember once trying to translate some French from a seventeenth-century book and the ſs didn't help at all, especially with all the other weird things about French from that period.
This was the basis for a very funny Christmas episode of the British shows Vicar of Dibley in the 1990s when the mentally-challenged assistant to the vicar, Alice, was doing a live national radio scripture reading during a broadcast of Dibley's X-mas mass. She, despite coaching, still pronounced the old "s"s as "f"s which led to a general and spontaneous outburst from the vicar and congregation when she got to the part in the King James version text about Jesus "suckling", etc. :lol:
The long S is used in words with a "sensitive" s not a sharp one, like in to use, while a sharp one like in words is the normal s. Also Bormann was not very successful in the German law press as the decisions of the Reichsgericht in civil and criminal cases as well as several other books and periodicals were still printed in Fraktur letters until at least 1944 (the year the last volumes were published).
IMO Fraktur is looking better than this type of letters here, although many have problems in reading it.

Useless trivia: The ſ is also one of the two letters which the letter ß, exclusive to the German alphabet as far as I know, consists of. The other is the z, in its old way of writing (much in the same way as the ancient Greek zeta). Consequently, the letter is called sz in much of Germany (in southern Germany, it is called "sharp s"), and in some old German books and maps with Latin script, you can find words like "Groß" or "Straße" written "Grosz" or "Strasze". This is mostly the case in capital lettering (i.e. "GROSZ" and "STRASZE"), because there is no capital ß. These days, however the capital ß is written SS ("GROSS", "STRASSE"), and the ß has become very rare, mostly replaced with ss, since the much-disputed spelling reforms a couple of years ago.
The ƒ was commonly used in English until about 1800.
Some further letter-related trivia inspired by Hotpoint's comments on thorn:

Prior to the introduction of printing, English handwriting also retained another remnant from the old Anglo-Saxon alphabet: "yogh" - which looked a lot like the numeral 3. It stood for (inter alia) the "gh" in such words as "night" (in the days before the gh became silent) and the "y" in "year".

Caxton's typography alphabet did not include the old runic letters (ash, thorn, yogh), and these were replaced by Latin letters.

But because yogh also resembled a cursive form of the letter z, a number of words - mainly names - containing it came to be spelled with a z even though the pronunciation remained as a soft g. This was particularly the case in Scotland.

The most famous example is the Liberal Democrat politician Sir Menzies Campbell. In his name, Menzies is always pronounced "Mingis". Not because g is a wierd pronunciation of z, but because the letter there was never really a z at all.
Yogh was usually written (upper and lower case).
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