Sharp s/Ligaturing

From: Marc Wilhelm Kuester (
Date: Mon Aug 18 1997 - 04:25:00 EDT

Alain LaBonte wrote:
> Interestingly enough, in old French writings, the ? (long s) ligature is

The long s U+017F and with it the sharp s ? ligature were originally
properties of the gothic script rather than the German language, and
therefore existed whereever that script was employed --- also in French and
English where it was en vogue, as you have indicated, in the XVIIth and
XVIIIth century. Likewise, when Antiqua was used in Germany around 1800, as
indeed it quite frequently was, no ? was printed. Only in the course of the
last century the ligature was taken over into Antiqua and became what it is
today, the letter sharp s.

John Cowan wrote:
> As its name ("ess-zed", pronounced /Es tsEt/) indicates, it
> a ligature of "long s" and "z". It is still correct, though probably
> pedantic, to replace it with "sz",

While many Germans call ? Ess-zet, this rests on a mistaken assumption of
its origin. Once upon a time a ligature between long s and z did exist; it
has nothing in common with the present sharp s (which is the only correct
name of ?). Likewise, it has never been correct to decompose ? as sz on a
typewriter without that letter (except in one very special and rare case,
namely to avoid ambiguity when uppercasing in instances like MASSE (mass,
normally printed Masse) and MASZE (measurements; units, normally printed
Ma?e)). It must be "ss".
  For a more detailed history of the sharp s cf. e.g. Jan Tschichold:
"Meisterbuch der Schrift", Ravensburg 1965, pp. 42ff

   Kenneth Whistler wrote on the matter of a compatibility decomposition
for sharp s:
> The easiest solution was to mark up the UnicodeData file I was using
with a
> new compatibility decomposition tag. (I used "<sort> 0073 0073")
   This seems to me the ideal solution. I also wholeheartedly agree with
his suggestion to encode the (theoretically non-existing) capital sharp Ss
as <font tag> U+00DF. Should their use be deemed acceptable in the future
(hopefully never!), there will still be plenty of time to assign them a
suitable code position.



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