Example: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Houghton_EC65.M6427P.1667aa_-_Paradise_Lost%2C_1667.jpg

Paradife loft.

There is no way that I can ever read that as:

Paradise lost.

The most bizarre part is that the smaller print on the same page says


Does this mean:


Or is it literally an "f" in that case? And why does it end with an actual "s" if "s" looks like "f"?

Please clarify this.

1 Answer 1


That <ſ> shape of "s" is called "long s": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_s

The long s was derived from the old Roman cursive medial s. When the distinction between majuscule (uppercase) and minuscule (lowercase) letter forms became established, toward the end of the eighth century, it developed a more vertical form.

The long s is used only at the beginning of a word or inside a word, never as the word-final letter, and it is graphically distinct from "f" in that it either has no horizontal bar at all, or the bar is only on the left side of the vertical stroke, while with "f" the horizontal bar crosses the vertical line.

In Germany, until 1945 when most printed matter was in the Fraktur typeset, the long s was always used. Even now in the German language there is a trace of the long s — the letter ß (Eszett or scharfes S in German) is a ligature of ſs.

  • 3
    It pretty much disappears from English printed after about 1800; OCR from books printed before this date has numerous mistaken f errors.
    – jlawler
    Jun 29, 2020 at 19:50
  • 1
    @jlawler - Here's a rare case on the 20th cent. usage of ſ. On these banknotes issued in 1918 in Kowno (now Kaunas, Lithuania), the text is in antiqua, but the Latvian part ( upper image, right side) uses ſ for [z] and ſ crossed diagonally for [s] (diagonally like Polish ł). The bold lowercase Latvian text in the modern orthography is "Aizdevu kases zīme". Note that both Lithuanian and German, which are also present on the banknote, don't use any long s.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jun 29, 2020 at 20:52
  • 1
    @jlawler - The Unicode for that letter is 1E9C ẜ latin small letter long s with diagonal stroke: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%EA%9E%A8
    – Yellow Sky
    Jun 29, 2020 at 21:41
  • The Nazis decided in 1941 that blackletter was henceforth to be seen as Judenlettern so I would wager most printed German matter post-1941 was already antiqua.
    – Jan
    Jul 1, 2020 at 12:39
  • @Jan - Really? Why then the NS-Frauenwarte, a Nazi magazine which had the status of the only National Socialist party approved magazine for women, was printed in Fraktur until the very end of its publication in 1944?
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 1, 2020 at 18:13

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