Long s

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An italicized 'long s' used in the word "Congress" in the United States Bill of Rights

The long s ſ, also known as the medial s or initial s, is an archaic form of the lowercase letter s. It replaced the single s, or one or both[a] of the letters s in a 'double s' sequence (e.g., "ſinfulneſs" for "sinfulness" and "poſſeſs" or "poſseſs" for "possess"—but never *"poſſeſſ").[1] The modern ⟨s⟩ letterform is known as the 'short', 'terminal', or 'round' s. In typography, it is known as a type of swash letter, commonly referred to as a "swash s".[2] The long s is the basis of the first half of the grapheme of the German alphabet ligature letter ß,[3] (eszett or scharfes s [sharp s]).


This list of rules for the long s is not exhaustive, and it applies only to books printed during the 17th and 18th centuries in English-speaking countries.[1] Similar rules exist for other European languages.[1]

  • A round s is always used at the end of a word ending with s: "his", "complains", "ſucceſs"
    • However, long s is maintained in abbreviations such as "ſ." for "ſubſtantive" (substantive), and "Geneſ." for "Geneſis" (Genesis)
  • Before an apostrophe (indicating an omitted letter), a round s is used: "us'd" and "clos'd"
  • Before and after an f, a round s is used: "offset", "ſatisfaction."
  • Before a breaking hyphen at the end of the line, a long s must be used: "Shaftſ-bury". (When hyphenation was not required, the word was spelled Shaftsbury, with a round s.[4])
  • In the 17th century, the round s was used before k and b: "ask", "husband"; in the 18th century: "aſk" and "huſband".

Otherwise, long s is used: "ſong", "ſubſtitute".

In handwriting, these rules do not apply—the long s is usually confined to preceding a round s, either in the middle or at the end of a word—for example, "aſsure", "Bleſsings".[1]


The medial s in Old Roman cursive
German handwriting (Bastarda), 1496, showing long and round s (as well as an r rotunda) in "priesters"
Title page of John Milton's Paradise Lost, featuring an ſt ligature and a nub on the long s
5th edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, 1817, top, compared to the 6th edition of 1823; the only change (aside from the elimination of the ⟨ct⟩ ligature, as in "attraction") was the removal of the long s from the typeface.
Wayside cross near Hohenfurch, Germany, erected 1953, showing the long s in Roman typeface
Detail of a memorial in Munich, Germany, showing the text Wasser-Aufsehers-Gattin ("water attendant's wife") containing a long s adjacent to an f

The long s was derived from the old Roman cursive medial s.[5] When the distinction between majuscule (uppercase) and minuscule (lowercase) letter forms became established, toward the end of the eighth century, it developed a more vertical form.[6] During this period, it was occasionally used at the end of a word, a practice that quickly died but that was occasionally revived in Italian printing between about 1465 and 1480. Thus, the general rule that the long s never occurred at the end of a word is not strictly correct, although the exceptions are rare and archaic. The double s in the middle of a word was also written with a long s and a short s, as in: "Miſsiſsippi".[7] In German typography, the rules are more complicated: short s also appears at the end of each component within a compound word, and there are more detailed rules and practices for special cases.

The long s is often confused with the minuscule f, sometimes even having an f-like nub at its middle but on the left side only in various Roman typefaces and in blackletter. There was no nub in its italic type form, which gave the stroke a descender that curled to the left and which is not possible without kerning in the other type forms mentioned. For this reason, the short s was also normally used in combination with f: for example, in "ſatisfaction".

The nub acquired its form in the blackletter style of writing. What looks like one stroke was actually a wedge pointing downward. The wedge's widest part was at that height (x-height) and capped by a second stroke that formed an ascender that curled to the right. Those styles of writing, and their derivatives, in type design had a crossbar at the height of the nub for letters f and t, as well as for k. In Roman type, except for the crossbar on medial s,[clarification needed] all other cross bars disappeared.

Unusual capital form of long s in Ehmcke-Antiqua typeface

The long s was used in ligatures in various languages. Three examples were for ⟨si⟩, ⟨ss⟩, and ⟨st⟩, besides the German letter Eszett ⟨ß⟩. The long s survives in Fraktur typefaces.

The present-day German letter ß (German: Eszett or scharfes S; also used in Low German and historical Upper Sorbian orthographies) is generally considered to have originated in a (Fraktur) ligature of ⟨ſz⟩ (which is supported by the fact that the second part of the ⟨ß⟩ grapheme usually resembles a Fraktur z: , hence ⟨ſ; see ß for details), although in Antiqua, the ligature of ⟨ſs⟩ is used instead. (An alternative hypothesis claims that the German letter ß originated in Tironian notes.[8])

Italic capitals: long s (right) and round s

Some old orthographic systems of Slavonic and Baltic languages used ſ and s as two separate letters with different phonetic values. For example, the Bohorič alphabet of the Slovene language included ⟨ſ⟩ /s/, ⟨s⟩ /z/, ⟨ſh⟩ /ʃ/, ⟨sh⟩ /ʒ/. In the original version of the alphabet, majuscule ⟨S⟩ was shared by both letters.

Also, some Latin alphabets devised in the 1920s for some Caucasian languages used the ⟨ſ⟩ for some specific sounds.[9] These orthographies were in actual use until 1938.[10] Some of these developed a capital form which resembles the IPA letter ⟨ʕ⟩—see Udi language § Alphabet.


In general, the long s fell out of use in Roman and italic typefaces in professional printing well before the middle of the 19th century. It rarely appears in good-quality London printing after 1800, though it lingers provincially until 1824 and is found in handwriting into the second half of the nineteenth century,[11] being sometimes seen later on in archaic or traditionalist printing such as printed collections of sermons. Woodhouse's The Principles of Analytical Calculation, published by the Cambridge University Press in 1803, uses the long s throughout its Roman text.[12]

Abandonment by printers and type founders[edit]

The long s disappeared from new typefaces rapidly in the mid-1790s, and most printers who could afford to do so had discarded older typefaces by the early years of the 19th century. Pioneer of type design John Bell (1746–1831), who started the British Letter Foundry in 1788, commissioned the William Caslon Company to produce a new modern typeface for him and is often "credited with the demise of the long s".[13]

Unlike the 1755 edition, which uses the long s throughout,[14] the 1808 edition of the Printer's Grammar describes the transition away from the use of the long s among type founders and printers in its list of available sorts:

The introduction of the round s, instead of the long, is an improvement in the art of printing equal, if not superior, to any which has taken place in recent years, and for which we are indebted to the ingenious Mr. Bell, who introduced them in his edition of the British Classics [published in the 1780s and 1790s]. They are now generally adopted, and the [type founders] scarcely ever cast a long s to their fonts, unless particularly ordered. Indeed, they omit it altogether in their specimens ... They are placed in our list of sorts, not to recommend them, but because we may not be subject to blame from those of the old school, who are tenacious of deviating from custom, however antiquated, for giving a list which they might term imperfect.

— Caleb Stower, The Printer's Grammar (1808).[15]

An individual instance of an important work using s instead of the long s occurred in 1749, with Joseph Ames's Typographical Antiquities, about printing in England 1471–1600, but "the general abolition of long s began with John Bell's British Theatre (1791)".[11][b]

In Spain, the change was mainly accomplished between the years 1760 and 1766; for example, the multivolume España Sagrada made the switch with volume 16 (1762). In France, the change occurred between 1782 and 1793. Printers in the United States stopped using the long s between 1795 and 1810: for example, acts of Congress were published with the long s throughout 1803, switching to the short s in 1804. In the US, a late use of the long s was in Low's Encyclopaedia, which was published between 1805 and 1811. Its reprint in 1816 was one of the last such uses recorded in America. The most recent recorded use of the long s typeset among English printed Bibles can be found in the Lunenburg, Massachusetts, 1826 printing by W. Greenough and Son. The same typeset was used for the 1826 printed later by W. Greenough and Son, and the statutes of the United Kingdom's colony Nova Scotia also used the long s as late as 1816. Some examples of the use of the long and short s among specific well-known typefaces and publications in the UK include the following:

  • The Caslon typeface of 1732 has the long s.[16]
  • The Caslon typeface of 1796 has the short s only.[16]
  • In the UK, The Times of London made the switch from the long to the short s with its issue of 10 September 1803.
  • The Catherwood typeface of 1810 has the short s only.[16]
  • Encyclopædia Britannica's 5th edition, completed in 1817, was the last edition to use the long s.[17] The 1823, 6th edition uses the short s.
  • The Caslon typeface of 1841 has the short s only.[16]
  • Two typefaces from Stephenson Blake, both 1838–1841, have the short s only.[16]

When the War of 1812 began, the contrast between the nonuse of the long s by the United States, and its continued use by the United Kingdom, is illustrated by the Twelfth US Congress's use of the short s of today in the US declaration of war against the United Kingdom, and, in contrast, the continued use of long s within the text of Isaac Brock's counterpart document responding to the declaration of war by the United States.

Early editions of Scottish poet Robert Burns that have lost their title page can be dated by their use of the long s; that is, Dr. James Currie's edition of the Works of Robert Burns (Liverpool, 1800 and many reprintings) does not use the long s, while editions from the 1780s and early 1790s do.

In printing, instances of the long s continue in rare and sometimes notable cases in the UK until the end of the 19th century, possibly as part of a consciously antiquarian revival of old-fashioned type. For example,

Bernauer Straße (Berlin U-Bahn) station sign with long s

In Germany, Fraktur-family typefaces (such as Tannenberg, used by Deutsche Reichsbahn for station signage) continued in widespread official use until the "Normal Type" decree of 1941 required that they be phased out. (Private use had already largely ceased.)

Eventual abandonment in handwriting[edit]

"Miss Austen's"—an example of a handwritten long s in a letter from Charlotte Brontë to G. H. Lewes, 12 January 1848

After its decline and disappearance in printing in the early years of the 19th century, the long s persisted into the second half of the century in manuscript. In handwriting used for correspondence and diaries, its use for a single s seems to have disappeared first: most manuscript examples from the 19th century use it for the first s in a double s. For example,

  • Charlotte Brontë used the long s, as the first in a double s, in some of her letters, e.g., "Miſs Austen" in a letter to the critic G. H. Lewes, 12 January 1848; in other letters, however, she uses the short s, for example in an 1849 letter to Patrick Brontë, her father.[23] Her husband Arthur Bell Nicholls used the long s in writing to Ellen Nussey of Brontë's death.[24]
  • Edward Lear regularly used the long s in his diaries in the second half of the 19th century; for example, his 1884 diary has an instance in which the first s in a double s is long: "Addreſsed".[25]
  • Wilkie Collins routinely used the long s for the first in a double s in his manuscript correspondence; for example, he used the long s in the words "mſs" (manuscripts) and "needleſs" in a 1 June 1886 letter to Daniel S. Ford.[26]

For these as well as others, the handwritten long s may have suggested type and a certain formality as well as the traditional. Margaret Mathewson "published" her Sketch of 8 Months a Patient in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, A.D. 1877 of her experiences as a patient of Joseph Lister in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh by writing copies out in manuscript.[c] In place of the first s in a double s, Mathewson recreated the long s in these copies, a practice widely used for both personal and business correspondence by her family, who lived on the remote island of Yell, Shetland. The practice of using the long s in handwriting on Yell, as elsewhere, may have been a carryover from 18th-century printing conventions, but it was not unfamiliar as a convention in handwriting.

Modern usage[edit]

Cycle Deſign (Cycle Design) in Berlin, 2002

The long s survives in elongated form, with an italic-styled curled descender, as the integral symbol ∫ used in calculus. Gottfried Leibniz based the character on the Latin summa (sum), which he wrote ſumma. This use first appeared publicly in his paper De Geometria, published in Acta Eruditorum of June 1686,[27] but he had been using it in private manuscripts at least since 29 October 1675.[28] The integral of a function f(x) with respect to a real variable x over the interval [a, b] is typeset as

In linguistics, a similar character (ʃ, called esh) is used in the International Phonetic Alphabet, in which it represents the voiceless postalveolar fricative, the first sound in the English word ship.

In Nordic and German-speaking countries, relics of the long s continue to be seen in signs and logos that use various forms of fraktur typefaces. Examples include the logos of the Norwegian newspapers Aftenpoſten and Adresſeaviſen; the packaging logo for Finnish Siſu pastilles; and the German Jägermeiſter logo.

The long s exists in some current OpenType digital fonts that are historic revivals, like Caslon, Garamond, and Bodoni.[29]

In the 1993 Turkmen orthography, ⟨ſ⟩ represented /ʒ/; however, it was replaced in 1995 by the letter ž. The capital form was ⟨£⟩, which was replaced by ⟨Ž⟩.

In Unicode[edit]

  • A long s with a bar diacritic, is encoded as U+1E9C LATIN SMALL LETTER LONG S WITH DIAGONAL STROKE

Solidus or slash [edit]

An echo of the long s survives today in the form of the mark /, popularly known as a "slash" but formally named a solidus. The mark is an evolution of the long s which was used as the abbreviation for 'shilling' in Britain's pre-decimal currency, written as in "7/6" meaning "seven shillings and six pence".[30] (The name shilling is derived from the Roman coin, the solidus.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Depending on whether they appear in the end or middle of a word, respectively. Some texts starting from the late 18th century had it exclusively replace the first s, however. A more detailed explanation follows below.
  2. ^ For fuller information, Attar cites Nash, Paul W. (2001). "The Abandoning of the Long 's' in Britain in 1800". Journal of the Printing Historical Society (3): 3–19.
  3. ^ The still-unpublished manuscript of this Sketch is held by the Shetland Museum and Archives.


  1. ^ a b c d West, Andrew (June 2006). "The Rules for Long S". Babelstone (blog).
  2. ^ Berger, Sidney (2016). The Dictionary of the Book: A Glossary for Book Collectors, Booksellers, Librarians, and Others. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 252, 295. ISBN 9781442263390.
  3. ^ Cheng, Karen (2006). Designing Type. Laurence King Publishing. p. 212. ISBN 9781856694452.
  4. ^ Anthony Ashley Cooper Earl of Shaftesbury (1705). The Earl of Shaftsbury's Case Upon the Habeas Corpus Act. printed, for G. Sawbridge.
  5. ^ Yule, John-David. Concise Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. Crescent Books (1978) ISBN 9780517486108 p. 490
  6. ^ Davies, Lyn (2006), A is for Ox, London: Folio Society.
  7. ^ Lowe's 1800 map of the USA
  8. ^ Bollwage, Max (1999), "Ist das Eszett ein lateinischer Gastarbeiter?", Gutenberg-Jahrbuch [Gutenberg yearbook] (in German), Mainz, DE, pp. 35–41, ISBN 978-3-7755-1999-1. Cited and discussed in Stötzner, Uta (2006), "Die Geschichte des versalen Eszetts", Signa (in German), DE: Grimma, 9: 21–22, ISBN 978-3-933629-17-3.
  9. ^ Proposal to encode Latin letters used in the Former Soviet Union (in Unicode) (PDF), DK: DK UUG.
  10. ^ Frings, Andreas (2007), Sowjetische Schriftpolitik zwischen 1917 und 1941 – eine handlungstheoretische Analyse [Soviet scripts politics between 1917 and 1941 – an action-theoretical analysis] (in German), Stuttgart, DE, ISBN 978-3-515-08887-9.
  11. ^ a b Attar, Karen (2010). "S and Long S". In Michael Felix Suarez; H. R. Woudhuysen (eds.). Oxford Companion to the Book. Vol. II. p. 1116. ISBN 9780198606536..
  12. ^ Woodhouse, Robert (1 January 1803). The principles of analytical calculation. Printed at the University press.
  13. ^ Bell, John (2010). Michael Felix Suarez; H. R. Woudhuysen (eds.). Oxford Companion to the Book. Vol. I. p. 516. ISBN 9780198606536.
  14. ^ Smith, John (1755). The printer's grammar: containing a concise history of the origin of printing;. London.
  15. ^ Stower, Caleb (1808). The Printer's Grammar; Or Introduction to the Art of Printing: Containing a Concise History of the Art, with the Improvements in the Practice of Printing, for the Last Fifty Years. p. 53.
  16. ^ a b c d e Philip Gaskell, New Introduction to Bibliography, Clarendon, 1972, p. 210, Figs 74, 75.
  17. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (5th ed.). 1817..
  18. ^ Wells, John Edwin (1970). A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050–1500. Modern Language Association of America. p. 548..
  19. ^ Daniel Hack (2005). The Material Interests of the Victorian Novel. Victorian Literature and Culture series. University of Virginia Press. p. 12. Figure 1 prints a facsimile of a sample page.
  20. ^ J. A. Sutherland (2013). "Henry Esmond: The Virtues of Carelessness". Thackeray at Work (reprint). Bloomsbury Academic Collections: English Literary Criticism: 18th–19th Centuries. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic: 56–73.
  21. ^ Mosley, James. "Recasting Caslon Old Face". Type Foundry. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  22. ^ Coleridge, Mary (1896). Fancy's Following. Oxford: Daniel Press.
  23. ^ Smith, Margaret, ed. (2000). The Letters of Charlotte Brontë: With a Selection of Letters by Family and Friends. Vol. Two (1848–1851). Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 406 and 407..
  24. ^ Smith, Margaret, ed. (2004). The Letters of Charlotte Brontë: With a Selection of Letters by Family and Friends. Vol. Three (1852–1855). Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. opposite 217..
  25. ^ Edward Lear. Edward Lear Diaries, 1858–1888. Houghton Library, Harvard: MS Eng 797.3 (27). Archived from the original on 22 February 2014.
  26. ^ Collins, Wilkie. "To Daniel S. Ford". In Paul Lewis (ed.). The Wilkie Collins Pages: Wilkie's Letters.
  27. ^ Swetz, Frank J., Mathematical Treasure: Leibniz's Papers on Calculus – Integral Calculus, Convergence, Mathematical Association of America, retrieved 11 February 2017
  28. ^ Leibniz, G. W. (2008) [29 October 1675]. "Analyseos tetragonisticae pars secunda". Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, Reihe VII: Mathematische Schriften (PDF). Vol. 5: Infinitesimalmathematik 1674–1676. Berlin: Akademie Verlag. pp. 288–295. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 October 2021. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  29. ^ Strizver, Ilene (2014). Type Rules!: The Designer's Guide to Professional Typography (4th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-118-45405-3.
  30. ^ Fowler, Francis George (1917). "solidus". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English. p. 829 – via archive.org. sǒ·lidus, n. (pl. -di). (Hist.) gold coin introduced by Roman Emperor Constantine; (only in abbr. s.) shilling(s), as 7s. 6d., £1 1s.; the shilling line (for ſ or long s) as in 7/6. [LL use of L SOLIDus]

External links[edit]