What’s The Name For The Dot Over “i” And “j”?

While many languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew, add specific accents to the letters or characters throughout their alphabet, the English alphabet has only two letters that include a diacritic dot. This mark is added to a letter to signal a change in either the sound or meaning of a character. What is the additional name of this curious dot that hovers over the ninth and tenth lowercase letters of the English alphabet, and how did it get there?

Why do some languages read left to right, and others right to left? Find out about the many directions language has taken across the world.

What is a tittle?

The small distinguishing mark you see over a lowercase i and a lowercase j is called a tittle—an interesting name that looks like a portmanteau (combination) of tiny and little, and refers to a small point or stroke in writing and printing. Generally, a diacritic dot such as a tittle is also referred to as a glyph, a mark that adds meaning to the written letter. However, in regards to i and j, the removal of the mark is still likely to be read as I or J; as such, these are not true examples of a glyph.

Derived from the Latin word titulus, meaning “inscription, heading,” the tittle initially appeared in Latin manuscripts beginning in the 11th century as a way of individualizing the neighboring letters i and j in the thicket of handwriting. With the introduction of the Roman-style typeface in the late 1400s, the original large mark was reduced to the small dot we use today.

Many alphabets use a tittle specifically in the case of the letter i. For example, the absence or presence of a tittle over the i in the modern Turkish alphabet, also Latin-based, helps to differentiate two unique letters that represent distinct phonemes.

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What does to a tittle mean?

The phrase to a T is believed to be derived from the word tittle and the following passage from Edward Hall’s Chronicles circa 1548: “I then … began to dispute with my selfe, little considerynge that thus my earnest was turned euen to a tittyl not so good as, estamen.” It is believed the phrase to a T originated as to a tittle and means something done exactly right. It originally referred to the tiny detail of a tittle, suggesting that every minor detail was correct.

Dot all your i's and cross all your t's by following up with learning why Q nearly always appears with a U.

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