Latin abbreviations in blackletter
This wiki page is aimed at giving some understanding of abbreviations used in some latin texts printed in blackletter around 1500. It does not address how to represent the abbreviated words when proofing (e.g. whether is to be proofed as
no[n] or simply
non): the rule for any given project will be given by the project manager.
The abbreviations described below were generally found in manuscripts, in blackletter books and in treatises of palaeography. An arbitrary selection was made, based on a perceived frequency of occurrences, and based on assumptions about what is more frequently representable in print (as opposed to the infinite number of variations offered by handwriting).
Here are some general systems of abbreviations, or common "patterns". The main thing to remember is that none of these patterns are fixed "rules", there can always be exceptions.
Most commonly a macron over a vowel represents a single m or n letter after that vowel.
In some cases, the macron can represent a various number of m/n letters before or after that vowel. Typical examples are:
However some times the macron stands just as a general abreviation symbol, meaning "any kind of abbreviation involving this letter". See contractions, below.
The letter z
- at the end of a word, after a vowel, stands almost invariably for m:
- = enclitic -que (at end of words).
- may stand for -bus at end of words.
- at the end of a word, after a consonant, may stand for "et" (or "ed" in the case of "sed"):
The following special symbols have mostly a fixed meaning.
Based on letter p
Based on letter q
- con, com, cun, cum (often at the beginning of words),
- -is (generally at the end of words),
- -rum (generally at the end of words),
- -us (often at the end of words),
- -tur (generally at the end of words).
Examples with "er":
More generally the hook can indicate some abbreviation with an 'r' sound.
Finally it may also serve as a general abbreviation symbol, like the macron, over any kind of contraction. For instance there are cases where the font does not have both and , so the one present is used for both purposes.
If the general patterns don't make any sense, it may be because the word is a contraction (keeping the first and last letters, and removing letters inside the word). Often some abbreviation mark (macron or hook) is left by the printer to indicate that it's a contraction, but that abbreviation mark will lose any special meaning it may usually have: typically a macron will not stand for a nasal.
- christus, iesus, episcopus, omnipotens, sancto, spiritum, dominus, dictus, magister, magistri, mensa, frater, fratri, noster, nostra,
The actual location of the abbreviation mark might vary, depending on what characters are available to the printer (e.g. or , etc.). If the printer put the macron at the end, it does not mean that the macron stands for a nasal: nostra, peccata, falsa, etc.
Common short words
An arbitrary list:
- modo (meo?),
- nunc (nec?),
- Other short words, found in Chassant (No idea if frequent or not):
The following additional examples are given as exercise for the reader (the solution appears as a popup window when moving the mouse over the ?).
Books available online
- A. Chassant. Dictionnaire des abréviations latines et françaises usitées dans les inscriptions lapidaires et métalliques, les manuscrits et les chartes du moyen âge, Paris, 1862 (on Google books, french).
- A. Chassant. Paléographie des chartes et manuscrits du XIe au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 1862 (Google books, french).
- F. Steffens. Paléographie latine, Trèves, Paris, 1910. (here, french).
- Jan M. Hulákovský. Abbreviaturae vocabulorum, usitatae in scripturis praecipue latinis medii aevi etc., Prague, 1852 (Google books, latin).
- A. Capelli. Dizionario di abbreviature latini et italiani, Milan, 1912 (italian).
- A. Capelli. Lexicon Abbreviaturarum, tweite verbessere Auflage, Leipzig, 1928 (the internet archive, german).
- A. Wright. Court-hand Restored, Or, The Student's Assistant in Reading Old Deeds, Charters, Records, etc., London, 1822 (Google books, english).
- C. T. Martin. The record interpreter: a collection of abbreviations, Latin words and names used in English historical manuscripts and records, London, 1892 (the internet archive, english). Pages 1-153 contain an extensive list of latin abbreviations.
- W. M. Linsay. Contractions in early Latin minuscule MSS, Oxford, 1908 (the internet archive, english). The abbreviations described here correspond more to the "continental" system in that book, as opposed to the "irish" system.
- W. M. Linsay. Notae latinae : an account of abbreviation in Latin mss. of the early minuscule period (c. 700-850), Cambridge, 1915 (the internet archive, english). Some summary tables in pages 495-500.
- Historische Hilfswissenschaften Paläographie, a bibliography (german).
- Abréviations, tachygraphie, ponctuation, a bibliography (french).