Getting Reading for Week 7: Abbreviations

*This week’s blog post is brought to you by Veronica and Lynsay*

This week we’re looking at abbreviations! Though many people today use abbreviations when sending messages over text, few might realize that shortening words isn’t actually a new practice. These readings will examine the use of abbreviations (and punctuation in the case of Intro to Manuscript Studies and Shady Characters) across various regions in Medieval Europe. The textbook introduced us to some new Latin words as well; distinctiones, positurae and a few other Latin phrases thrown around. Latin does not come naturally to me, so it tends to take longer for me to grasp the definition of certain Latin words. Here’s a quick reminder of those two words (because if I was reading this I would have had no clue what those were from the top of my head):

 Distinctiones: single points (punctus) that were placed at different heights to indicate different pauses while reading.

Positurae: a system that showed the reader how they should use their voice while reading (higher, lower, emphasis) using different punctus.

  • In what situations might abbreviations be preferable? What are the benefits and disadvantages for historians when looking at manuscripts that use abbreviations? What are the possible ways to overcome the challenge of understanding/transcribing abbreviations?
  • Much like the style of text abbreviations seems to vary across different regions. What might account for these differences? Why weren’t they just universal? Have you noticed during our time any differences in abbreviations across countries or regions?
  • Take a look at your own manuscript. Can you see any abbreviations or punctuation? Do they look like any of the examples provided in the textbook or are they their own alien punctuation?
  • Why do you think abbreviations were different depending on the region (Latin regions that is)? Why weren’t they just universal?
  • Not so much a question, but the third part of the Emoji article was published on October 14th, so I recommend taking a look:


Expanding and comprehending abbreviations can be a frustrating process but it provides another piece of the puzzle when historians try to understand medieval manuscripts. The next step is trying to share what we know about abbreviations with the wider public in a way that does not come off as dry and boring. Also, we need to find a way to share what we know about abbreviations to help further academics with their transcriptions down the road. As you read think about ways we can share with others (both academics and the wider public) our understanding of medieval abbreviations.