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If you've ever had the pleasure of looking at a centuries-old manuscript, like an original handwritten copy of the U.S. Bill of Rights or a first-edition printing of John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost," you may have stumbled over an unfamiliar letter: the long s.
To modern readers, the long s (written as 'ſ') might make you think you're catching misspellings or typos like "Congrefs" instead of "Congress" or "Loft" instead of "Lost." Look closer though and you'll notice that, unlike an f, the character either has no crossbar or only a nub on the left side of the staff. Though it may seem more like an f, the letter is just another variation of the lowercase s.
Character - John - Overholt - Curator - Harvard
Where did the long s come from and why has this character largely disappeared? John Overholt, a curator at Harvard University's Houghton Library, told Live Science that the long s originated in handwriting and was later adopted in typography when printing became widespread in Europe during the Renaissance. [Why Do People Hate Comic Sans So Much?]
The long s can be traced back to Roman times, when the lowercase s typical took an elongated form in cursive writing in Latin. According to librarians at the New York Academy of Medicine, people were using the long s at the beginning and middle of words by the 12th century.
S - S - Sound
The long s and the more familiar short s represent the same sound, and...
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