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Q: "Ancient Printing of 's' and 'f'' before and afterr vowels ( Answered,   3 Comments )
Subject: "Ancient Printing of 's' and 'f'' before and afterr vowels
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: walt575-ga
List Price: $3.00
Posted: 12 Feb 2005 22:07 PST
Expires: 14 Mar 2005 22:07 PST
Question ID: 473637
What is the origin of the fact that, in ancient English texts, the "S"
is printed as an "F" if the "S" occurs before or after a vowel? My
young grand-daughter is asking me to explain this and I can find no
explanation in my books or the net! Please assist if you can.
J.Walters MD 33069 Florida
Subject: Re: "Ancient Printing of 's' and 'f'' before and afterr vowels
Answered By: joey-ga on 12 Feb 2005 23:21 PST
The comment is correct in noting that it's, in fact, not an "f", but a
variant on "s": "?".  These were actually still in use much more
recently than "ancient" English times.

Until the middle of the 19th century (middle 1800s), most Ss in
language were written as "?", the so-called "long S".  The only Ss
that look like today's were usually at the end of words.  This is the
so-called "short s", "final s", or "terminal s".  Much as we have a
distinction between capital and lowercase letters, until that time,
there was a distinction in Ss between those at the end of a word from
those not at the end.  The short S could also be used if immediately
following a long S (as in "a?sociation").

For more information on this, check the Wikipedia:

Jack Lynch has put together a list of oft-confused words when modern
scholars scan in older texts containing the long S:


Searching strategy:
     "long s" -longs
     "long s" "final s"
     "long s" wikipedia
Subject: Re: "Ancient Printing of 's' and 'f'' before and afterr vowels
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 12 Feb 2005 22:53 PST
It's not an f.  It's an elongated s.  You should see a difference if
you compare it closely with a known f.
Subject: Re: "Ancient Printing of 's' and 'f'' before and afterr vowels
From: wmhunt-ga on 13 Mar 2005 07:39 PST
I have wondered about this myself, as I occasionally work with
"ancient" English texts.  This website explains when you can and
cannot use the long s.

However, I have yet to find a reasonable explanation why this practice
was once in fashion.
Subject: Re: "Ancient Printing of 's' and 'f'' before and afterr vowels
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 13 Mar 2005 12:03 PST

I am not acquainted with the history of the practice, but I have
always related it to the practice of using a similar long s in the
middle of a word (but never at the end) in Fraktur, the old German
blackface type.  It makes me think of rules about using the German
double-s called "ess-tset"--the one that looks a bit like a loose
capital B--in some positions and not others.

Greek, too, has two forms of the lowercase sigma, one that looks like
a long, stretched out rubber s--only for the ends of words--and
another that looks like a lowercase o with a little flourish on it,
used internally.

A historian of alphabets and typography could probably tell us more,
and someone as knowledgeable in languages as Scriptor-ga might
actually have an explanation.  But that would probably take a new
question because this one has already been answered by another


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