Dictionary.com

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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69 Comments

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

    Seen this? FavoriteWords.com – Totally genius!

    Reply
  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

    THANKS A LOT FOR THIS LITTLE i. ARTICLE

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

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

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

    I DONT UNDERTAND EVERYTHING

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

    K.DOT
    THANKS FOR THIS ARTICLE

    Reply
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    Fantastic site you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any
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    I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get comments from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thanks!

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

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

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

    EXCELLENT FEATURE. PLEASE CONTINUE.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

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

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

    Reply
  15. Dawn -  April 8, 2011 - 6:09 pm

    This is soo informative, thanks for telling this

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

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

    WAIT THATS SO WEIRD I NEVER KNEW THAT DOT EVER HAD A NAME

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

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

    Reply
  20. Frank -  March 8, 2011 - 7:05 pm

    Thanks, this is good to know.
    I found a new favorite word…
    Tittle. :)

    Reply
  21. unidentified. B) -  March 8, 2011 - 6:50 pm

    nice info. imma tell my teacher. :)

    Reply
  22. uela mari -  March 8, 2011 - 6:16 pm

    more vocabz enrichment pleaaaaaaaaaaz!

    Reply
  23. Cyberquill -  March 8, 2011 - 6:14 pm

    I’m not sure the double tittle on the i in “naïve” is an umlaut, strictly speaking, as “umlaut” means a change in the vowel sound versus its undotted version. The two dots on the i in “naïve” do not signify a sound change, only that the i is to be pronounced separately. I think the two dots on an i are a diaeresis rather than an umlaut.

    Reply
  24. julia -  March 8, 2011 - 4:16 pm

    Wow i luv that cuz my name starts with j and also has an “i”

    Reply
  25. Bryan H. Allen -  March 8, 2011 - 4:07 pm

    “Cyberquill”, “fern” was correct: The “i” in “naïve” is /called/ a dieresis. Though the dieresis and umlaut could be /described/ as a double tittle, that would be a non-standard name, which would tend to interfere with successful communication. (Ya, I do that “alot”.)

    Junoesque, your comment is similarly mistaken (but less so). The “dieresis” and “umlaut”(¨, ISO 8859-1 0168) share the same form but are distinct in function, like one of the differences between a “dash” and a “hyphen”. (The hyphen is a connector, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hyphen, but the dash[13] is a separator, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dash, regardless whether the same or a different character is used: 45, 0150 or 0151 in Windows-1252.) The dieresis serves to avoid orthographic (spelling) ambiguity amongst two letters, while the umlaut serves to mark a phonetic and phonemic change in the symbolism of one letter which the orthography otherwise would not reveal.

    Specifically, the dieresis, like a short dash (-), serves to separate /two abutting letters/, to mark them as not a digraph, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/digraph, to mark them as pronounced individually. In the cited example, naïve is pronounced /naiv/ in French (four phonemes), but naive /would/ be pronounced as /nɛv/ (three phonemes). (The French /ɛ/ is pronounced somewhat like the letter “e” in the English word “never”, but the tongue position is not centralized, as the English “e” is somewhat.) If the dieresis were not used, then a short dash (-) would be used to serve the same function. (One archaic spelling of the English word “cooperate” is “coöperate”; like “co-operate”, it serves to teach the correct pronunciation—not /kuˡɒpɚet/! It’s “too bad” that the English word “dieresis” itself may not be spelled “diëresis” to teach its pronunciation.)

    In contrast, the “umlaut” marks that the /single letter/ which bears it undergoes a shift of the tongue position, from a “back vowel” to a “front vowel” substantially /without a change in the rounding of the lips/. Thus „ü‟ is pronounced the same as „u‟ in respect to the height of the tongue and the rounding of the lips, but the tongue’s highest point is instead in the extreme front of the mouth, the same as „i‟, not the back of the mouth, as in „u‟. Compare “ablaut”, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ablaut.

    (I hope those 226 words in two paragraphs finally explained it!)

    Filtrono Vendicatore, “close” (/klos/, the adjective) means that the top of the tongue is held /close/ to the roof of the mouth.

    “Front” means that the highest point of the top of the tongue is in the front of the mouth, not the “middle”, “center” or “back” of the mouth. (The mouth’s phonetic extremities in pronouncing vowels are said to be “high”, “low”, “front”, and “back”. “Center” lies between those extremes. Latin, Italian and Spanish have no “central” vowel—or symbol for one! The position of the tongue’s highest point most affects the vowel’s tamber/timbre—or sound quality.)

    “Unrounded” means that the lips are not rounded. The vowel “u”/«u», in both English and Italian, is pronounced with the lips rounded. In private, try pronouncing it while smiling/grinning. Seriously! Use a mirror if you must! If you do that successfully, the result is the sound ɯ instead of u. Việt-Nam-ese is one language which has such a distinct sound, spelled ư with a “horn”, as in ngữ, “language”.

    The foreign ɯ is the “close, back, UNrounded vowel”, and the familiar u is the “close, back, Rounded vowel”. The “close, front, unrounded vowel” is [i]. (In English, it is variously spelled “e”, “ee”, “ie”, inter alia. Lucky you: it is spelled correctly in your ancestral language!)

    (“Internet” and—in isolation—“Web” are not proper nouns; therefore, they should not be spelled capitalized. However, “World Wide Web” is a proper name of the W3C, http://WWW.W3.org/.)

    (I hope those 242 words in five paragraphs answered your questions!)

    “Elishamod”, you made me think, thank you. I agree almost 100%.

    However, even in Tiberian (Masoretic) Hebrew, the distinction of the «ּ» (dâghêsh and mappîq, both decimal 1468) was phonemic, even where it does not mark gemination. (Schramm’s 1964 /The Graphemes of Tiberian Hebrew/ told me that nearly 3 decades ago. Cf. http://En.WikiPedia.org/wiki/Dagesh, http://En.WikiPedia.org/wiki/Mappiq and http://WWW.UniCode.org/charts/PDF/U0590.pdf, hexadecimal 05BC. The dâghêsh and mappîq, like the hyphen and short dash, are functionally distinct.) However, the distinction almost never changes a word’s root; thus, anyone who can read unvoweled Hebrew (not I!) in most circumstances could infer which word was intended.

    In contrast, the one-to-three dots in Arabic (one to four in Indo-European Urdû) do change the word’s root. The ambiguity resulting from their omission (as in the Qur’ân as initially written) would be critical.

    However, I did not know that the single, integral, superscript dots in Latin scripts are called *tittles*. Thank you! (_Phew!_ Today, not having to insert many right-to-left characters spared me hours of extra work!)

    Reply
  26. Homer -  March 8, 2011 - 3:44 pm

    Lol

    Reply
  27. preeti -  March 8, 2011 - 1:52 pm

    Great ! Good to know !!!!

    Reply
  28. ScottinVA -  March 8, 2011 - 1:42 pm

    C, Q, and X are useless letters.
    Let’s change them to say “Ch”, “Th” and “Sh” respectively.
    We should keep the tittles, though.

    Reply
  29. JJ Rousseau -  March 8, 2011 - 12:52 pm

    Tittle tattle titillate, dot your eye and cure your hate.

    Reply
  30. aa fasina thomas -  March 8, 2011 - 12:03 pm

    An educative research. However, be informed that we use tittle too in Yoruba alphabets. For instance, we slam a dot under “s” to pronounce “sh”. Yoruba? Well, that’s a language in the West African country of Nigeria.

    Reply
  31. Aek Rebzani(Algeria) -  March 8, 2011 - 11:04 am

    Thanks a lot. It’s good to know that

    Reply
  32. ✿D.C✿ -  March 8, 2011 - 10:55 am

    I am going to use the word tittle from now on. It’s cute. :D

    Reply
  33. Filtrono Vendicatore -  March 8, 2011 - 10:25 am

    Also, “book,” “television,” “play,” and other forms of media aren’t proper nouns, so why are “Internet” and “World Wide Web” (or “Web”) proper nouns, and may they one day lose the distinction?

    Reply
  34. Filtrono Vendicatore -  March 8, 2011 - 10:18 am

    Please explain the following:

    “close front unrounded vowel”
    “close back unrounded vowel”

    Reply
  35. sonia -  March 8, 2011 - 9:20 am

    Interesting

    Reply
  36. ashley -  March 8, 2011 - 9:14 am

    I LOVE YOUR WED

    Reply
  37. Junoesque -  March 8, 2011 - 9:05 am

    @ Cyberquill

    The mark (¨) used as a diacritic over the vowels ä, ö, ü, and ï is called an umlaut [oo m- lout] . :)

    Anyway, now I know what the single dot is called. Tittle it is. ;)

    Reply
  38. Nelson -  March 8, 2011 - 8:26 am

    The little “titttle” is NOT a characteristic of the English language, but of all Latin based languages (Romanian, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese). If the author of this little blurb had done his homework he would have found out this basic issue.
    English, derived from low-class German, adopted a more civilized approach in the 13th century. In fact, the Magna Carta was written in Latin for the Saxon language was nothing but a barbarian speech, unworthy of writing.

    Reply
  39. Rich -  March 8, 2011 - 8:24 am

    Brilliant article – I’m not sure if you’ve covered it beforehand, but I’ve always been curious as to the positioning of /i/ in spelling and grammar. Perhaps too deep a history for a 750 word article, but it was worth a try =P

    Reply
  40. jeddan -  March 8, 2011 - 7:38 am

    THANK YOU!

    Reply
  41. Wrasfish -  March 8, 2011 - 7:31 am

    What? The tittles were placed there to differentiate “i” and “j” from what? Each other? Or to make them stand out in the middle of a lot of sloppy handwriting? If so, what makes “i” more special than any other vowel, and why does “j”, which appears so rarely anyway, need such special attention?

    Joe, you obviously read this far yourself, and saw fit to write a comment, such as it was.

    Grawr, before you talk about tittles, you had better read up on “jot”.

    Reply
  42. Kari -  March 8, 2011 - 7:11 am

    I have a question. Why does the letter K have the two strokes in addition to the one initial upright stroke? As a calligrapher I’m always fascinated about letters and I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Thank you for sharing it. Now I can go out and win friends and impress people with my vast knowledge. K

    Reply
  43. dinesh vaishnaw -  March 8, 2011 - 6:53 am

    good information.

    Reply
  44. the _Truth -  March 8, 2011 - 6:48 am

    he is right the guy above i know u could come up something better this the truth is tis article sucks

    Reply
  45. CJones -  March 8, 2011 - 6:34 am

    tittle lou to you too.

    Reply
  46. jomamma -  March 8, 2011 - 6:32 am

    this article bores me

    Reply
  47. louis paiz -  March 8, 2011 - 6:30 am

    let me retype in english i don’t know the name of them but in spanish they are called ierissis they also are used on top of the letter u as in guisquil always used with the letter g for those sounds i would like to learn more about it in english,also the letter y as in you and the sound of the greek i in key. thanks

    Reply
  48. eirvhoy -  March 8, 2011 - 5:51 am

    OooooH….. i didn’t know that tittle has its own origin,
    new discovery for me…^_^

    Reply
  49. louis paiz -  March 8, 2011 - 4:55 am

    in english i don’t know in spanish are called ierises i assume that they are the same used in spanish on top of the letter u as in guisqil
    i would like to learn more about it.also about the difference between y as i you and the letter y in greek i. thanks

    Reply
  50. Vmh -  March 8, 2011 - 3:52 am

    The Hot Word, is now one of my favourite tittle to visit every day! I am looking forward to reading, & learning more “uncommon” words in the future!!! Keep it up!

    Reply
  51. fern -  March 7, 2011 - 11:44 pm

    Cyberquill: the i in naïve is called a diaeresis or umlaut in German.

    Reply
  52. grawr -  March 7, 2011 - 11:32 pm

    Ahhhhhhhhh!!!! hahahahaha i now know what it means!! buwahahahaha.. im going to use it in school now!!! hahahha

    Reply
  53. Blinky Billy -  March 7, 2011 - 11:26 pm

    OK, I admit it, I did SOME mistakes…

    Reply
  54. yves -  March 7, 2011 - 10:44 pm

    great..

    Reply
  55. Tam -  March 7, 2011 - 10:42 pm

    Well, I guess I’m just a HUMONGOUS NERD!!!! (And uber-proud of it!) ^_^
    Soyyyyy un perdedorrrrrr! I’m a loser babyyyyy…

    Reply
  56. Elishamod -  March 7, 2011 - 9:44 pm

    Actually, in Hebrew we use diacritic dots only when we want to “stress” the sound, like turning a ב (sounds like v) to a בּ (b). In Arabic, the diacritic dots are paramount, because without them the letter is completely different. In Hebrew we can omit the diacritic dot, and a trained reader would understand us. In Arabic, we cannot omit the diacritic dot.

    Reply
  57. Pumkin Girl -  March 7, 2011 - 7:53 pm

    This Website os really sweet. Thankyou to all the poeple who make this website so special. Love You Guys. oxoxoxoxoxox

    Reply
  58. joe -  March 7, 2011 - 3:49 pm

    IF YOU READ THIS YOU ARE A BIG NERD!!!!!!!!
    also, I DON’T CARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  59. Hi -  March 7, 2011 - 3:46 pm

    That was interesting!!!!!!

    Reply
  60. Cyberquill -  March 7, 2011 - 3:32 pm

    The “i” in “naï ve” has a double-tittle. Off the cuff, I can’t think of a word with a triple-tittle.

    Reply
  61. me! -  March 7, 2011 - 3:18 pm

    I knew it was called a tittle but never knew they story behind the name!

    Reply
  62. Blake Snow -  March 7, 2011 - 3:09 pm

    The Hot Word is quickly becoming my favorite blog. Tittles!

    Reply
  63. Chuck Norris -  March 7, 2011 - 2:45 pm

    Well, Thanks Ranger!

    Y’all sure one of those mighty thinkers eh? I wasn’t much of them varmints but if y’all ever need me to rassel up some varmints then call me

    Reply
  64. Mel -  March 7, 2011 - 2:11 pm

    Why did they place the line in the letter Q in that position?

    Reply
  65. bubbles -  March 7, 2011 - 2:07 pm

    oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooookkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy then.

    Reply
  66. Nicolas WithoutanH -  March 7, 2011 - 1:45 pm

    Thanks for this information! It sure did “tittle-ate” me!
    Regarding the other Mysteries surrounding the Alphabet; I always wanted to know about the letter Y! Why is it prounounced “why” when there are no “y” sounds in how you say it! Why is “y” so!

    Reply
  67. jennifer -  March 7, 2011 - 1:11 pm

    i like that one because my name starts with a j

    Reply
  68. the epicness that is me -  March 7, 2011 - 1:08 pm

    wow. am i the only one that read this?

    Reply
  69. Gitanjali R. Vaswani -  March 7, 2011 - 1:04 pm

    This was indeed informative!! thanks for sharing!! would certainly love to know more and even more!! :)

    Reply

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