Thursday, May 27, 2004

Spent the day in the University Library reading an eighteenth century edition of the Annals of Oxford University by Anthony Wood which is mercifully in English. The only complication is the use in printing of the 'long s' which looks a bit like an 'f'. Connoisseurs of double entendres should check out Robert Boyle's the Spring of the Air (about his vacuum pump) to see the word 'suck' spelt with a 'long s'. They got rid of it about 1800 and I have never been able to figure out the logic of its use as they use a normal 's' as well. The 'long s' is one of the things that makes medieval manuscripts hard to read and it just got carried over into printing. The end of the eighteenth century also marks the point that spelling becomes completely modern and I've always wondered if we have Samuel Johnson and his dictionary to thank for that. The further back you go, the worse English spelling becomes but even in 1500 there are very few English words that we don't still such today ('sith' for 'since' is a rare exception). I have been reading an awful lot of sixteenth century English and have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is.

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