A Short History of the Long s
Don’t stumble over the Long s. If you have read any historical documents from the 8th to the 18th Century you probably tripped over the close similarity of the f and Long s letters. Since the eighth Century the standard “s” used by English and German writers was often scribed as a Long s. Read below, Samuel G. Drake’s introductory page in Reverend Increase Mather’s and Cotton Mather’s book on The History of King Philip’s War, [sic] starting with the fourth sentence, “A few Europeans. . . “. Note that if there are two “s” back to back only the first “s” in that sequence was a Long s. Also, an “s” at the end of a word apparently is never a Long s.
Read once fast through the introductory page. Did it take long for you to stop stumbling over a long s posing as an f? Being dyslectic seems to actually help. I offer you my first-hand experience. Try reading again but look at the writing as a cryptogram. Ignore all “ſ” and “s” letters. Have a little fun competing against a friend, speed speaking, and count your errors. By the time you have mastered this you might actually conclude that the exercise has improved your reading skills.
Anyhow, I have looked for an explanation of the logic behind the f/s convention. There are many anthropologists and linguists offering interpretations online of the cause and purpose. I dare not paraphrase them
We can thank all those 19th Century artisan Colonial printers that drove the issue out of print and script. As new type-faces and presses were developed they simply dropped the Long s type face that had little functional printed value. Posthumously, we offer our thanks to Benjamin Edes of the Boston Gazette, Isiah Thomas founder and editor of The Massachusetts Spy, James Franklin Jr. (nephew of Ben), Paul Revere custom engraver and John Campbell of the Boston News-Letter. Unfortunately, there were thirty-seven known newspapers, printers and publishers in the town of Boston operating in the 18th Century among 15,000, inhabitants. Barely five of them managed to live long enough to see the Long s practically eliminated by the beginning of the 19th Century.
Additional information is available on our Boston Massacre tour. Paul Revere will introduce you to the Benjamin Edes Museum and Ben if he will be in the printing office during a tour visit.
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Mather, Increase, Cotton Mather, and Samuel G. Drake. The History of King Philip's War. Boston: Printed for the Editor, 1862. Print. re-published 1990 by Heritage Books, Bowie Maryland.
http://imgur.com/gallery/0sVAa for complete rules however antiquated the usage has become.
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