Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Thu Feb 11 14:15:45 UTC 2010

>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.

The other strike against my long-s hypothesis is that the words
themselves often make it clear whether it's f or long-s. There's
actually few opportunities for real ambiguity. To be pedantic, what
we're calling "capitals" are majuscule letters ("capitalis" was a
majuscule script and like uncial was often used for opening text,
inital letters, etc.) I do not know of a majuscule long-s.

With Joel's suggestion of confusion with MS abbreviations, old
characters, or marks of suspension (and there's a boatload of them)
-- and with what Viktor posted earlier, in either case we're dealing
with confusion and misinterpretation on the part of a reader of a
medieval or early modern MS, not a true medieval MS practice as I
believe it was phrased at one point (or at least that's how I
interpreted it).

The best instance of not understanding old characters was the entry I
spotted in Black's Law Dictionary 5th ed. for "Pudzeld" /wudgeld/ "In
old English law, supposed to be a corruption of the Saxon 'wudgeld'
(woodgeld), a freedom from payment of money for taking wood in any
forest." There we have a misunderstanding/mistranscription/poor
approximation of the wynn and the yogh in Old English scripts. (I
think Joel or somebody else already mentioned the use of "z" for

---Dangerously Pedantic Amy West

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

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