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It is hard to remember that fonts originated in handwriting, but occasionally reminders, like ligatures, pop up. “Ligature” literally means to bind or tie up, so when two letters are tied together in script, it is called a ligature. Medieval scribes combined letters that shared some part, so they could write faster and conserve space on the page. For example, rather than write fi, they combined the tittle in the i with the end in the f to make the symbol at left. Other common ligatures combine vowels that make one sound like æ. When printing began in the mid 1400s, typesetters continued to use joined letter forms to mimic the look of manuscripts. (Heard of the thorn? Learn more about other glyphs that fell out of use with moveable type here.)

In the early 1900s, when typewriters became fixtures in the modern office, common ligatures were not included on the keyboards. To save space, typewriters included the alphabet, numbers, basic punctuation, and few additional keys. When san-serifed fonts (like Helvetica and Arial) became common in the mid-1900s, ligatures fell even further out of fashion.

Some fonts continue to include ligatures. which can be found in the Special Characters section of programs like Microsoft Word. Today, ligatures are sometimes encountered in books because desktop publishing software, like Adobe InDesign, include ligatures as an automatic option in typesetting. More often, ligatures are used in brand names. For example, when a brand name like Encyclopædia Brittanica includes a ligature, it is technically misspelled if one does not include the special letter form. Want to learn about other symbols that have fallen out of use? Read about the ampersand here.

How often do you see ligatures? Do you think we should use them today?

Ford Focus RS driver Matthew Wilson of Britain and co driver…

Getty Images May 6, 2010 | BRENDON O’HAGAN

Getty Images 05-06-2010 Ford Focus RS driver Matthew Wilson of Britain and co driver… in our site ford focus rs

Full Size JPG (1555 KB) Ford Focus RS driver Matthew Wilson of Britain and co driver Scott Martin drive during day 1 of the rally of New Zealand in Auckland on May 7, 2010. Rally of New Zealand gets underway with Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen hoping to close the gap on defending world champion Sebastien Loeb, who has won the last three lega of the championship. AFP PHOTO/Brendon O’HAGAN (Photo credit should read BRENDON O’HAGAN/AFP/Getty Images) here ford focus rs

BRENDON O’HAGAN

163 Comments

  1. Ironic Twist -  March 6, 2012 - 8:03 pm

    To me, it seems like cursive. Think about it. All the letters are connected in the word. Only a style of writing.

    Reply
  2. Adam -  October 17, 2011 - 7:52 pm

    I try to employ ligatures in my writing whenever possible. I also use long s’s!

    Reply
  3. Liyana -  October 11, 2011 - 8:15 am

    Wow. ligatures are just coooolllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  4. tomsboat -  October 9, 2011 - 8:04 pm

    I like ligatures as they look beautiful

    Reply
  5. sherryyu -  October 4, 2011 - 12:59 pm

    that just so cool :)

    Reply
  6. my new name is Adam -  October 4, 2011 - 5:45 am

    I use a ligature to hold the reed against the mouthpiece of my saxophone (google it and you’ll see a picture). Had no idea it had any other meaning.

    Reply
  7. coldbear -  October 3, 2011 - 10:49 am

    Glad to know where they came from, why they were used and why we don’t used them anymore.

    But moreso, I’m glad they’re gone!

    Reply
  8. TETO -  October 3, 2011 - 10:27 am

    As time passes there is more and more we are REQUIRED to know. Although it may be fun to add a little something else to add spice. I opt out when it comes to more clutter in my cranium.

    Reply
  9. ONICA -  October 3, 2011 - 9:57 am

    ITS GOOD TO KNOW LIGATURE IS STILL USED WISH THT WUD BE THOUGHT IN SCHOOLS IN SOUTH-AFRICA . . .

    Reply
  10. Hunts -  October 3, 2011 - 7:35 am

    Me gustan ligatures. Me gusta mucho.

    Reply
  11. mistydwaters -  October 3, 2011 - 7:33 am

    I watched a movie once that had a building that had Health on the side with the a and e like that. It wall called “supersize me!”

    Reply
  12. ryan -  October 3, 2011 - 7:08 am

    Aldous Huxley used to use ligatures in alot of his books i had no idea about what they were or why they were even used at all. is it really just to save space or does it change the sound of the pernunsiation.

    Reply
  13. Bee -  October 3, 2011 - 7:00 am

    Ligatures were used by James Pitman (inventor of the shorthand alphabet) when he created the Initial Teaching Alphabet. I.T.A.
    Th,sh,ee,oo,ae,ie,ue,oe,wh,ch were all joined and provided children with a fail safe consistent sound. Children learned to read quickly and with confidence and made the transition to ‘to’- Traditional Orthodox, without problems . Achieving almost immediately a reading age of 7+. not only were they confident readers but confident in writing as well – not being afraid of ‘being wrong’ .
    Spelling became fun once they needed to write in T O, because the children had an interest in print.
    It stopped being in use because of lack of funding , ie not enough books being printed for schools, poor information being given to parents and new teachers etc.
    Cover the bottom half of a line of unfamiliar print and you will still be able to read it. We skim print once we have learned to read – using phonics to decode. Bring back ligatures to help children learn to read more quickly !

    Reply
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