While many languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew, add specific accents to the letters or characters throughout their alphabet – the English alphabet has only two letters that include a diacritic dot. This a mark added to a letter that is meant to signal a change in either the sound or meaning of a character. What is the additional name of this curious dot that hovers over the ninth and tenth lowercase letters of the English alphabet, and how did it get there?

The small distinguishing mark you see over a lowercase /i/ and a lowercase /j/ is called a tittle – an interesting name that seems like a portmanteau (combination) of “tiny” and “little,” and refers to a small point or stroke in writing and printing. Generally, a diacritic dot such as a tittle is also referred to as a glyph. However, in regards to /i/ and /j/ – the removal of the mark is still likely to be read as /I/ or /J/; as such, these are not examples of a glyph.

Derived from the Latin word “titulus,” meaning “inscription, heading,” the tittle initially appeared in Latin manuscripts beginning in the 11th century as a way of individualizing the neighboring letters /i/ and /j/ in the thicket of handwriting. With the introduction of the Roman-style typeface in the late 1400’s, the original large mark was reduced to the small dot we use today.

Many alphabets use a tittle specifically in the case of the letter /i/. For example, the absence or presence of a tittle over the /i/ in the modern Turkish alphabet, also Latin-based, helps to differentiate two unique letters that represent distinct phonemes.

The inclusion of a tittle over the capital /I/ represents the “close front unrounded vowel” sound while the absence of a tittle over the lowercase /i/ represents a “close back unrounded vowel” sound.

The phrase “To a T” is believed to be derived from the word tittle and the following passage from Edward Hall’s Chronicles circa 1548:

“I then… began to dispute with my selfe, little considerynge that thus my earnest was turned euen to a tittyl not so good as, estamen.”

Now that you’ve satisfied your desire to know the source of that little dot, consider this: Why does the letter Q almost never appear without a U right next to it? Find your answer, here.

What other mysteries of the alphabet would like us to explore? Let us know.


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  1. jetsonpaul -  February 20, 2014 - 10:27 pm

    Seen this? FavoriteWords.com – Totally genius!

  2. ringing in ears hearing loss -  September 15, 2013 - 12:31 am

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  3. sudhir kumar -  September 5, 2013 - 8:20 am


  4. ravindra Paitl -  September 4, 2013 - 8:28 pm

    This is very interesting ……. Thanks for giving information like this…!!!

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  6. Fun Facts: Tittle! | The Pond -  December 4, 2012 - 1:52 am

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  7. VIVIAN -  June 26, 2012 - 4:05 am


  8. VIVIAN -  June 26, 2012 - 4:03 am


  9. UFC 147 live -  June 18, 2012 - 2:02 am

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  10. Brian -  February 1, 2012 - 6:27 am

    Cyberquill could not think of a word with a triple tittle, how about Beijing.

  11. MADHAV RAMIREDDY -  January 1, 2012 - 1:55 am


  12. Valérie -  April 10, 2011 - 9:01 am

    While this article helps me understand /i/ and /j/ typographically, I wonder about their differentiated pronunciation–especially with dramatic shifts from French and English to the “jota” of Spanish and its absence in Italian…

    Many thanks!

  13. Squay -  April 9, 2011 - 2:06 am

    Most interesting. I love little tidbits like this.

    Visited all of the links provided. Interesting about portemanteau (French for “to carry” + “sleeveless cloak”) and its association with Lewis Carrol’s Jabberwocky. “Squay” is a portemanteau for “squared away”, a nickname I was given from fellow Marines while in Paris.

    I, already, have difficulty getting away from my computer due to Wikipedia’s links. Now, I can get lost in Dictionary.com’s links as well. Jeesh!

  14. Pinki -  April 8, 2011 - 9:21 pm

    Cool, I’ve never thought of those little dots and stuff! :)

  15. Dawn -  April 8, 2011 - 6:09 pm

    This is soo informative, thanks for telling this

  16. anon-i -  March 9, 2011 - 1:00 am

    Still don’t get it. Must be needing sleep, after 48 hours of work.
    Anyone care to add “in other words” to summarize this tldr article?

  17. Pamela -  March 8, 2011 - 8:04 pm

    So, let me ask this question, then? If, after talking about the importance of the tittle on the “i” and how it serves to differentiate the “l” from the “i,” why are so many posters not capitalizing the “i” when necessary? Writing in all lower case letters is as egregious as using all capitals (which is screaming on the Internet). I would have hoped that here at a grammar site, I would have seen “I like this…,” rather than “i like this.” And, an occasional apostrophe — used correctly! — would also be nice to see; for a change.

  18. I'M KEWL YOUR NOT -  March 8, 2011 - 7:30 pm


  19. emily -  March 8, 2011 - 7:28 pm

    nice okkkkkk um i’ll keep that in mind……………

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