A method of shortening words that can be in the form of initials, suspensions, contractions, or symbols.

A method of shortening words that can be in the form of initials, suspensions, contractions, or symbols.

Initials may be the first letters of a word, with a period indicating missing letters. 

Suspensions: the end of the word is omitted with a mark indicating the missing letters.

Contractions: a graphic symbol to replace letters in the beginning, middle, or end of the word. 

Frequently-used words were replaced by symbols. 

In Latin, and in languages using the Latin alphabet, common suspensions include a semicolon (for "que" or "bus"), or a bar (or macron) over a letter ("aū" = "autem"). Bars are also used in the middle of words as contractions. A superscript 9 at the end of a word indicates the ending "us," "os," or "is." A superscript 2 indicates an "er" or "ur" ending. Since the Latin abbreviations were used in other western European languages, the same core reference (Capelli) is recommended as the first resource for interpreting abbreviations in western manuscripts. The most common abbreviation symbols are for words like "et," such as the ampersand (&).  The Tironian note for "et" (which looks like stylized subscript "7") is named for Cicero's secretary Tiro, who used it as a shorthand symbol. Abbreviations for sacred names (also called "nomina sacra") are common, like the Chi-Rho (☧) or xps for the word Χριστός or "Christus."

Abbreviations in Syriac manuscripts are marked with a line over the last written letter or letters of the shortened form, as in ܬܫܒܘ̄ for ܬܫܒܘܚܬܐ, and Armenian scribes employed a similar practice. Arabic abbreviations, which are more extensive, are of four kinds: truncations (تع for تعالى); contractions (قه for قوله); sigla, that is, one letter for a whole word (م for متن, etc.); and symbols (the more or less stylized horizontal stroke for سنة).

  • Arabic:
    علمة، رمز، مختصر
  • Armenian:
  • French:
  • German:
    Abkürzung; Kürzung
  • Italian:
    abbreviazione; compendio; abbreviatura
  • Latin:
  • Portuguese:
  • Spanish:
    abreviatura; abreviación

Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography (Cambridge, England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 150-168. 

Winfried Boeder, Versuch einer sprachwissenschaftlichen Interpretation der altgeorgischen Abkürzungen (No place of publication, 1987).

Michelle Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum in association with the British Library, c1994).

Adriano Cappelli, Lexicon abbreviaturarum (Milano: Hoepli, 1961).

Adriano Cappelli, The Elements of Abbreviation in Medieval Latin Paleography (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Libraries, 1982). 

Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), 89-93. 

Adam Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2009), 2-6. 

Elpidio Mioni, Introduzione alla paleografia greca (Padova: Liviana, 1973), 95-99. 

Bernard de Montfaucon, Palaeographia graeca (Paris: apud Ludovicum Guerin [etc.], 1708), 341-350. 

Oikonomides, Al. N., Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions (Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1974).