Why do we dot lower case 'i' and 'j'?

And do you feel awkward having to put something in the body of the message when you asked your question in the title?

  1. Dunno. Diacritics that haven’t died yet?
  2. Yeah, sorta.

I’ve heard the dot over the i and j are known as the pittle and pottle, respectively.

Not sure if this is true or not. Please dispell my ignorance.

From the OED:

However, in the original quote, they actually refer to the ‘small letter’ as the “miniscule.”:smack:

Some people – well, my parents – add a horizontal stroke above the lower-case letter “u” as well, presumably to distinguish it from the lower-case “n”. They both write in classic, elegant script, where such letters easily become hard to tell apart.

Ummm… I’m reasonably sure that if you go back and check, the OED spelled it correctly: minuscule.

They do? I don’t see how, unless you have some strange inverting form of dyslexia.

Reminds me of putting bars through z’s in algebra to distinguish them from twos. That got to be a habit for awhile, back in high school.

AndrewT, imagine an italic script n. The upstroke doesn’t follow the initial downstroke; instead it follows more of a diagonal route. If you exaggerate this, the upstroke actually gets closer to the right-hand downstroke, making it look similar to a u in the same script. Look at the Brush Script font, and imagine it even more exaggerated.

Anyway, going back to the dots. Look at old manuscripts - the downstrokes all look very similar (example here). This has no dots - you can see how dots would help you to distinguish between, say “m” and “in” which would otherwise look almosty identical. The j is just a voiced form of the i, so it’s natural that it kept the dot.

I can definitely see mixing up u’s with n’s. In fact, with my rather messy handwriting, you can throw m’s and r’s in there as well. When I write the word “murmur,” it might as well say “unrmrrm”; it’s just a series of slants.

Commasense, Merriam-Webster online (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary) lists miniscule is a variation of minuscule. While minuscule is preferred, I don’t think miniscule can be called incorrect.

Hah! Those morons at Merriam-Webster!

It really bugs me that dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, if enough people misspell something, dictionary editors will put it in there as an alternate version, even though the origin is simply a bunch of people making the same mistake. (Yes, I realize that the editors have little choice in this, and that if I were one of them, I’d be doing the same thing. It just annoys me that they don’t stand up for righteousness.)

I was merely pointing out (without checking, although I just did, and, of course, I was right) that the editors of the OED knew and used the older, more correct spelling.

FYI, the “miniscule” variation undoubtedly arises from people’s familiarity with “mini,” derived from “minimum,” “miniature,” etc. These come from the Latin word minimus, which means “least,” and is the superlative version of minor, or “less.” It is from the Latin minor that we get the English words “minus,” “minuscule,” and (indirectly) “minute.”