Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Feb 10 19:20:58 UTC 2010

I have another speculation, which is now my first choice:

Manuscript writers used many abbreviations, many of which were
symbols (that is, not letters of the Latin alphabet).  When they were
put into print, transcribers had to decide how to represent them in
the fonts available.

Some transcribers of documents, in the interests of greatest
accuracy, represented these symbols directly.  (For example, the
Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, ed. by
Nathaniel Shurtleff and David Pulsifer, 1855-1861.  They include a
table explaining the meanings of such symbols in terms of the (Latin
alphabet) letters they represent.)

Other transcribers did not demand such additional types from their
printers, and replaced such symbols by Latin letters.

Perhaps some transcribers saw manuscript representations of a capital
F (which naturally would *only* be in an initial position) that
looked like two lower-case "f"s connected, treated it like symbols or
other characters not in their fonts (e.g., like using a "y" for the
thorn -- a *letter* replaced by a letter), and transcribed it as a
double lower-case "ff".

When families whose names began with F saw their names in print, they
liked the distinctiveness of this aspect -- something no other family
had.  (Perhaps all other capital letters had efficient cursive forms?)

I'm not convinced by Amy's theory of "an attempt to distinguish
initial f from long-s."  Was long-s ever a capital?  I don't think
so, but I too know enough to be dangerous.  If not, a reader would
not be confused.

I still find my example of "ffather" and "Ffirmin" very suggestive --
the transcriber saw capital F's in both places, decided to substitute
two "f"s for this "symbol" that was not in his font, and then decided
that Ffirmin should be capitalized because it was a proper
name.  (Only the pretentious would have insisted on "ffirmin"!)

P.S.  I don't see my theory as in conflict with Victor's 1855
theorist, particularly on the pretentiousness.  (I assume that that's
what Amy was referring to when she wrote she agreed with its first
part  8-) .)  The 1855 theorist simply believes that transcribing the
manuscript's capital F into "ff" of "Ff" was a mistake.

The 1885 theorist also wrote:
>In conclusion it may be remarked, that in Old English, as in German,
>there was a great
>temdency to employ capital letters where we now use small letters, as
>in the case of nouns, adverbs (compounded of a noun and preposition),
>&c. In many instances, also, an ignorant scribe employed a capital
>unnecessarily, and which in copying need not be imitated.

(1)  Can someone give me examples of adverbs formed from a noun and a
preposition?  My vocabulary is failing me.

(2)  Do readers of 18th-century and earlier printed books *ever* see
adverbs capitalized?

(3)  The 1885 theorist's method of transcription fails the standard
for the highest level of faithfulness in transcription.  If there was
an "unnecessary" capital in the document, the most faithful scribe
would retain it, as he would retain "mis-spellings", etc.

The presence of things like (the common nouns) "ffishe, fflesh,
ffowle, ffriends, and ffoes, &c." in early printed books is perhaps
only because these words, being nouns, were capitalized in the
manuscripts.  The practice of transciption may have been changing.  I
wonder whether, for example, "ffoes" and "Foes" were both present in
(different) books printed around the same time.

As for the 1893 theorist, who wrote:
>At the same time, it is perfectly true that in the "set Chancery hand" of the
>fourteenth century a capital /F/ takes the form /ff/, which appears to
>consist of two small /f/'s ;  but if we trace this form backwards for
>some two hundred years, it will be found that what appears to be the
>second small /f/ is in reality merely a prolongation of the verical
>tick at the extremity of the upper horizontal bar of the capital /F/,
>thus giving a form somewhat resembling a capital /H/ with a cross-bar
>at the top. It is this elongated tick which has been mistaken for a
>second /f/.

This sounds quite similar to a symbol found in the New Plymouth
records.  It can be described as looking like an "e" with a long
curved tail, and it stands for "es".  Such things were abbreviation
forms a bit like modern shorthand, to allow scribes to write more
quickly (as needed for court records, I suppose).  The cursive form
of capital F described above sounds similar -- the square-cut "Roman
lapidary" form mentioned by this writer would be too slow.


At 2/10/2010 09:46 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> >>
>I wonder if what is going on is an attempt to distinguish
>initial f from long-s. <<
>That would certainly explain why only initial "F" seems to be involved in
>these spellings.
> >>I've seen it used initially in two printed
>fencing manuals from the late 1700s <<
>That might suggest that the onomastic affectation came rather later than
>Henry VIII or G. Fawkes.  Any further evidence?
>(Sorry for hitting "send" prematurely a moment ago.)
>On Wed, Feb 10, 2010 at 9:32 AM, Amy West <medievalist at w-sts.com> wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Amy West <medievalist at W-STS.COM>
> > Subject:      Re: ffolliott
> >
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > Our understandings of so many medieval things has changed so much
> > since the 1800s that many of their conclusions are suspect. Beowulf
> > was earlier read as history, for example. And there are
> > misinterpretations of physical objects -- the terms "chain mail,"
> > "ring mail," "scale mail," and "plate mail" are all constructs from
> > that period that don't relate to the actual objects (mail is often
> > constructed as a mesh, not as a series of chains; mail is only made
> > from rings so "ring mail" is redundant and "scale mail" and "plate
> > mail" are contradictions).
> >
> > More to the topic at hand, that's a very interesting transcription
> > example. I wonder if what is going on is an attempt to distinguish
> > initial f from long-s. In MSs long-s was usually used only internally
> > and terminally, but I've seen it used initially in two printed
> > fencing manuals from the late 1700s (Angelo and Lonnergan). I wonder
> > if the 1800s transcriptions are trying to respond to the confusion.
> >
> > Again, as David Wilton put it, as with so many topics, I know just
> > enough to be dangerous.
> >
> > >Date:    Tue, 9 Feb 2010 20:53:58 -0500
> > >From:    "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> > >Subject: Re: ffolliott
> > >
> > >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.
> >
> >  ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >
>"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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