That title works in both English and French, which is good, because this link (via La grande rousse) is about French—specifically, the character œ. (If you can’t see it correctly, it’s an o and e jammed together.) The title of the little essay is “What do you call the character œ?” and the answer is “digramme soudé oe” ‘joined [literally ‘soldered’] digraph oe,’ or more colloquially “e dans l’o” ‘e in the o.’ The heart of the essay:

D’un point de vue typographique, la soudure de deux ou plusieurs lettres en un seul caractère est appelée ligature. Par exemple, le caractère & (l’esperluette) est une ligature représentant sous une forme stylisée les deux lettres du mot et…. La ligature œ est quant à elle une ligature “linguistique” ou “orthographique”, dans la mesure où, en français, elle est obligatoire pour certains mots (cœur) et interdite pour d’autres (coexister), peu importe la police de caractères utilisée.

From a typographical point of view, the joining of two or more letters in a single character is called a “ligature.” For example, the character & (the ampersand) is a ligature representing in stylized form the two letters of the [Latin] word et [‘and’]…. The ligature œ is a “linguistic” or “orthographic” one, inasmuch as in French it is required in certain words (cœur) and forbidden in others (coexister), whatever font is used.

It finishes with a nod towards the ancient rivals across the Channel/Manche: “Mentionnons pour terminer les noms anglais de ces deux caractères : œ est appelé ethel (ou œthel) tandis que æ est appelé aesc (ou æsc, ou ash).” In English, they say, the œ is called ethel and the æ ash. Now you know.
Incidentally, note the use of la police in the sense of ‘font, set of type’; it’s new to me. As Anatoly says, no day without a word (ни дня без слова).


  1. The German ß is a ligature too; the first character is that uncrossed “f” that once was used for “s” in the middle of words. I’m sure it has a name, but I don’t know what it is.

  2. It’s called an eszett, and there’s a whole website about it—enjoy!

  3. Knew that, LH; I meant what the site you link to refers to as “das Lang-s”. I should have written my comment more carefully. Drat.

  4. If you switched your charset from iso-latin-1 (formally iso-8859-1) to its designated successor iso-latin-9 (iso-8859-15, yes really) you would have both the Euro character and the oe ligature at your disposal.
    The ligature was excluded from the older character set partly because it is not the business of character sets to include ligatures (except, apparently, German ones), but mostly to annoy the French.
    They retaliate now by using the character all over the place and never setting the correct encoding, damn them.

  5. In English, mcwetboy, I’ve always heard that character referred to as “the long s” (although the OED’s first citation is from 1808). Not very exciting to anyone who knows the German, I’m afraid.

  6. Ray: Originally, “long s” actually only refered to the aforementioned crossless f.

  7. Maus: That’s what mcwetboy was originally asking about before I read his comment carelessly and confused the whole issue beyond repair.

  8. Ligature? I thought that was something used to stop death by blood-loss. Isn’t the word “diphthong”? It’s always been one of my favourites, and one of the few with more than four letters that I actually know how to spell.

  9. A diphthong is a double sound, like “Ow!” (ah + oo). A double (joined) letter is called a digraph (graph = writing) or ligature (= joining or binding, hence the surgical thread that ties off a blood vessel).

  10. What about “ø”/”Ø” and “å”/”Å”, then (as in Danish and Norwegian, along with “æ”/”Æ”)? Would you classify them as ligatures, too? Does “ø” come from “o” + “e”? And what about the “bolle-a” (alternative Danish name): the “å” which was borrowed from Swedish to replace “aa”? Do you know how that came about in Swedish, adding the circle above the “a”? (I’m too lazy to do any research myself, especially if anyone can tell me the answer!)
    Another interesting question is how people see these letters. In the Scandinavian languages, they are, of course, a normal part of the alphabet – in fact, your wouldn’t be able to say the alphabet without saying them. But that isn’t the same for “œ” in French or the German “ß” (which I think can also be called the “Schafe s”, although that name’s less common that pronouncing it simply as the “eszett” that it orignially was in Gothic lettering). And of course the umlauted vowels of German don’t exist in the alphabet, either – they seem to inhabit a limbo-stage between being considered as letters in their own right, and being seen as nothing more than mutations deviating from the norm. At least that’s how I see the situation. Any ideas on this?

  11. Good questions. Ø is not a ligature because it’s an O with a slash through it, not two conjoined letters; å I don’t think would be considered a ligature because the little o isn’t actually joined to the a below it. I don’t know how the letter arose (except that it’s obviously intended to represent a with the sound of o), but somebody out there must; Des?
    the “eszett” that it orignially was in Gothic lettering
    Actually, it was two s‘s, but the top of the first “long” s curled down to meet the second, which then looked like a z after the rich variety of early letter forms had been lost.

  12. When did English language typesetters abandon the ethel and ash ligatures? I have seen them in older texts — but not that old, probably mid-century or so — in a number of words like arch(ae)ology and onomatop(oe)ia. I noticed this in late elementary school when I noticed that words like that — “archaeology” was probably the one I noticed first — were often spelled with just an e where there should be an (ae) or an (oe). So, I’ve seen such words spelled with the ligature, with the two vowels separate, or just with an “e”. What gives?

  13. Sci.lang’s Brian M Scott is reliable and has sources for ø (short answer, we don’t really know) and Jukka K Korpela (also reliable) does å in the same thread (it is an ao, squished in the 15th century). The rest of the thread is worth reading, too.
    ß and the silly French thing are not _letters_ even if they are characters. German “ä” is an “a” with an accent on it, while Swedish “ä” is an letter – these things are determined by presence in the alphabet and collation order (although German telephone directories are said to sort “ä” as “ae”). These things are set either de jure by Academies or what have you, or de facto by dictionary makers, and (unlike speech, of course) not by usage.

  14. Well all this talk about umlauts and ligatures got me t’thinkin’… So I went upstairs to double check my memory and my memory was correct. I’m looking now at Deutsche Märchen vor Grimm, published by Rudof M. Rohrer Verlag, 1943, in Fraktur script. The umlaut in this script is represented not by two dots, but by a little “e” above the vowel it is applied to. So I would think this definitely counts as a ligature — “ä” can be expressed as “ae” if you don’t have a umlaut-enabled keyboard, and is sorted (as des notes) as “ae”; and if it was originally written as an “a” with an “e” above it, then it seems clear to me that a joining of the two vowels is what this character is. The only caveat I could see is I don’t know if this is true for all Fraktur fonts; writing it this way could be an affectation on the part of the particular typesetter who printed the book I’m looking at. I don’t have any other texts on hand to check.

  15. Jeremy: The umlaut definitely came from a superposed e.
    des: Your “sources” link is munged; can you provide a good one? I’d love to read the thread.

  16. Gah! here’s a link to the thread, which works on preview.

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