Wednesday, January 28th, 2015...1:55 am

Ligatures: A Guide to Their Proper and Improper Use

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Have you ever noticed the weird little-character in the word Encyclopaedia? The combination of “a” and “e” is called ligature. In writing, including fiction and typography, a ligature is a 2 or more graphemes that are mixed together to make one glyph. A ligature is a character that is created by combining different characters.

Ligature comes from the Latin word “ligatus,” which means tying or binding, but history can find ligatures as far back as the earliest forms of writing. Sumerian Cuneiform, for example, uses a lot of ligatures. They’re also featured in a number of historic scripts because scribes used them often to increase their writing speed. Considering that ancient scribes wrote everything by hand, ligatures were natural and simple progression in writing and language.

The use of such characters became more popular during the fifteenth century with the introduction of the printing press, which utilized blocks of metal letters to print documents. Ligatures were ideal for press printing because they save time and space. They started falling out of usage in the 1950s because of widespread use of sans serif fonts, which having very little room for overlapping, and increased use of typewriters. With modern day printing and desktop publishing, ligatures are used very rarely.
Proper usage

Ligatures can be employed for stylistic purposes as well. If you are using a specific style guide, you might wish to check its recommendations. The Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, advises not to use ligatures in Greek or Latin words transliterated into a foreign language that have also been adopted in English and thus are present in English dictionaries. It recommends using ligatures in older English, where they are the most commonly used characters.

You will notice in Chicago Manual of Style that some of the characters are ligature as well as distinct letter on the basis of their usage. The origin of these letters as ligatures in Latin, in languages like Norwegian and Danish is letter.

The most commonly employed ligatures include the letter “f” combined with an adjoining letter, with “fi,” “ff,” and “fl” being used most frequently. Even though most do not consider the ampersand (&) to be a ligature, it was created originally as ligature of the letters “t” and“e,” forming word “et,” which is the Latin word for “and.”

Usage of ligatures for style purpose

While ligatures appear to be relics from the past, there’s a present day movement to revive them amongst essay editors. If you also like them, and if your style permits them, you can freely use them in writing. If you are not sure you have used them correctly, you can always get help from professional essay editors.

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