Contractions in Colonial Writings

By Sidney Perley

Contractions are other than the authorized abbreviations of words. These were common during the first century of our history, and only gradually became obsolete.

A horizontal line written above a letter denoted that one or more letters which should have followed had been omitted. This was the ordinary rule when "mm" or "nn" were written together, and one "m" or "n" only, with the line above it, would be written. It is rarely or never found written above the full-height letters, such as b, d, t, etc. For example, the word "manner" was written "maner."

"And" was sometimes written "ad", and the ordinary sign (&) was often used.

The letter b was frequently written instead of "ber"; d for "ded;" n for "ner"; o for "on" ; p for "par", "per", "pir", "por", "pur", "pra", "pre," "pri", "pro", and "pru"; and q for "que" and "qui".

Superior letters, that is, small letters written above the line, was also a kind of abbreviation. In such cases, the word

"which" was written "wch", as well as "wch", "wh", and "whh'' "m" stood for "em"; "n" for "en"; "r" for "er", "ber", and "eir"; "s" for "is" and "as" "t" for "at"; and "y" for "ey".

Syllables in the middle or at the end of words were sometimes written as superiors, though often without abbreviation.

The words "shall be" and "will be" were frequently written "shalbe" and "wilbe".

The article "ye" needs explanation. It is really "the", and should be so pronounced. The y in this word represents the Anglo-Saxon character which was equivalent to the English "th". When the Old English black-letter type replaced the Anglo-Saxon letters in the printing of English words, from its close resemblance to the Anglo-Saxon character for "th" the Old English Q was substituted for it, and continued to be so used so long that people became accustomed to using the y for "th" in writing the article " the " and some other words.

AHGP Massachusetts

Source: The Essex Antiquarian, Volume I, Number 7, July 1897

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