Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Feb 10 01:53:58 UTC 2010

I don't know about medieval, but I would tend to trust a "keeper of
the manuscript department of the British Museum".  While admittedly
the claim is a century old (1893), it still is long enough after
medievality to think that she had the data.  But I am willing to
receive and evaluate more recent evidence -- or to speculate that she
thought of the early modern period as the dark middle ages when
compared to her own high Victorian era of scientific historiography.  8-)

On the other hand, this very day I came across the transcription of
New Englander Giles Firmin's 1639 (1640 N.S.) letter to his
father-in-law, John Winthrop (yes, the governor).  One sentence reads:

"The message was first done to my ffather [sic] Ward who should haue
enformed my brother of it, but hee kept it in his owne breast, & did
not reueale it, till long after by accident hee heard of it; so that
now hee fears the opportunity is slipt: diuers enticements hee hath
to returned to England, but his wife is vtterlye against it ...".

But the letter is signed "Giles Ffirmin", and Winthrop endorsed it
"Cosin Ffirmin"!

This is from an issue of the Massachusetts Historical Society
"Collections" dated 1865.  I did not look to see if the method of
transcription of the manuscript letter was stated  explicitly (I
suspect it was not).  But my inference from experience with colonial
documents of that period is that at most the thorn, superscripts, and
abbreviation signs -- such as were commonly used for "the" and "that"
-- were replaced by modern type.  The manuscript's use of "u" was not
changed to today's "v", nor vice versa.

I don't know quite what to deduce about the "ffather" but "Ffirmin"
here.  Was practice evolving (and Ffirmin and Winthrop hadn't yet
decided that if they used a capital F they could drop the other
"f")?  Or was Ffirmin simply confused, and Winthrop politely followed
Ffirmin's spelling of his own name?  Or -- and this seems to me
perhaps the best bet, but of course I cannot tell unless I go to the
manuscript itself -- did the transcriber see an initial lower-case
"f" in "ffirmin" and decide, since it was a proper noun, that it
should be transcribed as a capital F (and for "accuracy," the second
"f" retained)?

But it does seem reasonable to infer that the double lower-case "f"
in "ffather" was intended to stand for a capital F.  I deduce that
Ffirmin intended to capitalize "Father" in "Father Ward" when giving
Ward that honorific.  Ward of course was not Giles Firmin's father;
rather, I think, Ward was the father of Firmin's sister's
husband.  But such honorifics were common in New England within
extended families.  Gov. Winthrop endorsed this letter as from
"Cosin" Ffirmin; "cousin" was often used to indicate an
otherwise-unspecified familial relationship (see the index to M.
Halsey Thomas's edition of Samuel Sewall's "Diary").

As for W (double-U), that of course was double-V at the same period
-- or rather, the "w" sound was expressed by a double V, as in the
title of the very same (Nathaniel) Ward's "The simple cobler of
Aggavvam in America", of 1647.  (By 1713, the next edition held by
Harvard, the title was using a "w".)


At 2/9/2010 09:06 AM, Amy West wrote:
>I only had 1 paleography class as part of my graduate coursework in
>Medieval Studies, so I'm no expert, but this sounds like hogwash to
>me. I can check with Thems Wot Knows Better. I don't recall this at
>all from my limited study of chancery cursive.
>---Amy West
>>Date:    Mon, 8 Feb 2010 22:02:27 -0500
>>From:    Alison Murie <sagehen7470 at ATT.NET>
>>Subject: Re: ffolliott
>>On Feb 8, 2010, at 11:57 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>>  -----------------------
>>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>>  Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
>>>  Subject:      Re: ffolliott
>>>  Try http://tinyurl.com/ygtqufk or
>>  >
>>>  =onepage&q=&f=false
>>>  An article from The New England Historical and Genealogical Register,
>>>  allegedly vol. 27 (April, 1893), p. 212.  It contains a very short
>>>  letter from the "keeper of the manuscript department of the British
>>>  Museum", saying that "the British legal handwriting of the middle
>>>  ages has no capital f.  A double f (ff) was used to represent the
>>>  capital letter."
>>>  [Why no other doubled initial lower-case letters for capitals?  Not
>>>  addressed.]
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list