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Geofroy Tory, the Apostrophe and the letter S

09/03/2017

Simon Griffin, writing in Fucking Apostrophes, [Icon Books, London, 2016] observes that ‘Geoffroy [sic] Tory is considered one of the people responsible for introducing it [the apostrophe] to the French language in the 15th century’ (p.16).

the S

The letter S as drawn by Geofroy Troy in his Champ Fleury

A disputable claim given that Tory’s Champ Fleury wasn’t published until 1529. Nevertheless, turning to that volume, Tory himself writes: ‘…if it should happen that one has occasion to write in Attic letters such verses, wherein the S should disappear, one may write them clearly & wittingly without putting the said letter S where it might be lost, and put an apostrophe over the place where the S should be. This apostrophe, being above the line at the end of a word, signifies that some vowel or an S has been dropped because of the metrical quantity of the vowel that follows it in the next syllable or word’ (trans. George B Ives, Dover edition, 1967, p.138).

the S by Catich

Hand drawn S by Catich from The Origin of the Serif

Tory elaborates on the letter S itself, noting its Greek origin and that it makes ‘a hissingsound, of the same quality that red-hot iron makes when it is dipped in water’ (ibid, p.139). He goes on to note how a letter S (sigma in ancient Greek) represents silence ‘…for which reason the ancients often wrote it alone above the door of the place where they ate and drank with their good friends; in order to put it before their eyes that such words as they should speak at table must be spoken soberly & listened to in silence; which cannot be if there be excess in eating and drinking, which are things not meet for decency at table & for pleasant company’ (ibid, p.139).

Note: For an earlier piece on Tory go here and for more on Catich and The Origin of the Serif here

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. koko puschka permalink
    10/03/2017 9:54 am

    I just love this post so much, so very much. It brights up my day.

    Thank you, John.

  2. David Kelly permalink
    22/08/2017 11:31 am

    Hi John,
    I found your site while browsing and derive much knowledge and delight from it. I’d like to offer you two sites which might pique your interest. They share your love of th eletter in a differetn way – modestly one of my own and another on pinterest. Hope you get to look at and enjoy them – regards David Kelly

    http://www.davidkellypoetry.com/alphabetc.html

    second and final regards

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