The Universe of Discourse

Thu, 11 Jun 2020

Middle English fonts and orthography

In case you're interested, here's what the Caxton “eggys” anecdote looked like originally:

Screenshot of a portion of a page from Caxton's _Eneydos_,
  transcribed below.  The font is a dense “black letter” style, with
  thick vertical strokes and angular shapes.


In my dayes happened that
certain marchaȗtes were in a ship in tamyse for to haue
sayled ouer the see into zelande / and for lacke of wynde thei
taryed atte forlond. and wente to lande for to refreshe them
And one of theym named Sheffelde a mercer cam in to an
hows and axed for mete. and specyally he axyd after eggys
And the goode wyf answerde.that she coude speke no fren-
she. And the marchaȗt was angry. For he also coude speke
no frenshe. But wolde haue hadde egges / and she understode
hym not/ And thenne at laste a nother sayd he wolde
haue eyren/ then the good wyf sayd that she understod hym

It takes a while to get used to the dense black-letter font, and I think it will help to know the following:

  • Except at the end of a word, the letter ‘s’ is always written as the “long s” , ‘ſ’, which is easy to confuse with ‘f’ .

    Compare the ‘f’ and ‘s’ in “frenshe” (line 9) or “wyf sayd” (line 11).

  • Some of the ‘r’s are the “rounded r”, ‘ꝛ’, . which looks like a ‘2’. But it is not a ‘2’, it is an ‘r’.

    Examples include “for” (line 2) and “after” (line 6).

  • In “marchaȗtes” (line 2), the mark above the ‘ȗ’ is an abbreviation for letter ‘n’ (it's actually a tiny ‘n’), so this word is actually “marchauntes”. Similarly “marchaȗt” in line 8 is an abbreviation for “marchaunt”. I have written about this kind of abbreviation before: Abbreviations in medieval manuscripts.

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