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Manicules, double daggers, and silcrows! Oh my!

Manicules, double daggers, and silcrows! Oh my!

The power of the corpus-wide query can often unearth a few surprise gems. While the team was researching the way notes are formatted in WWO, we became curious about which characters appear before notes in our texts. A quick XQuery script later, we had uncovered a few fun and interesting findings in the list of characters that are prefixed to the <note> elements in WWO.1 You can see the whole list at the bottom of this post.

It’s not really surprising that the asterisk (*) tops the list, with 2,431 instances across our published texts. Daggers (†) and double daggers (‡) are also fairly common, with hundreds of instances each. Looking further down the list, however, reveals some characters that might be less familiar to those who haven’t worked extensively with early texts. For example, the manicule appears six times. The term “manicule” comes from the Latin maniculum or “little hand.” The first known use of the manicule dates to the 1086 Domesday Book, a meticulous recording of landownership in England produced for William I; however, popular usage of the symbol really picked up steam in the Renaissance period.

A right-pointing manicule from the Specimen Book of the Cincinnati Type Foundry, 1882.
A right-pointing manicule from the Specimen Book of the Cincinnati Type Foundry, 1882. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Note the manicule inserted before the first reward headline in this 1865 broadside concerning the capture of Lincoln assassination conspirators. This document was published in the Eyes of the Nation : a Visual History of the United States by Vincent Virga. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

Three authors in the WWO corpus use the manicule as a notational symbol: Charlotte Turner Smith, Mary Deverell, and Anne Francis. Smith and Deverell make use of the symbol once, while Francis uses it four times in her 1790 collection, Miscellaneous Poems. While exploring the manicule’s use across the corpus, the team also unearthed an author, Katharine Chidley, who uses the manicule alone as a note—as in the manicule appears by itself in the margins to literally point to places of emphasis. Chidley uses the manicule this way eleven times (!) in A New-Years Gift, or a Brief Exhortation to Mr. Thomas Edwards. 

An example of the manicule encoded as the paragraph contents of a note in
An example of the manicule encoded as the contents of a note in Chidley’s A New-Years Gift, or a Brief Exhortation to Mr. Thomas Edwards.

Returning to the list, the fourth most common item, “#rule,” deserves some glossing. The WWP uses “#rule” with the pre/post keywords on our rendition ladders to indicate cases where horizontal ruled lines appear in our texts; for the WWP’s purposes, ruled lines might include series of dashes or straight lines with minor detailing and they might be used either indicate divisions in a text or for decorative purposes. For more detail on the Women Writers Project’s encoding of ruled lines and ornaments, see here.

Finally, the silcrow (§), or section sign, or “double S” (it goes by many names) appears as the fifth most common notational symbol in the corpus. The silcrow points to sections—much like the paragraph sign (¶) is used to point to paragraphs. In the WWO corpus, the silcrow is regularly used, like the dagger and double dagger, to mark the anchor points of notes. The silcrow’s modern usage has evolved to primarily encompass citation in legal texts. In fact, in some European countries its symbolism has become intertwined with law to the point where it serves as the sign for the justice system, much like the use of the scales.

The logo of the Bundesministerium für Justiz, or the Austrain Federal Ministry of Justice.
The logo of the Bundesministerium für Justiz, or the Austrain Federal Ministry of Justice. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

The full list of our results for characters prefixed to notes follows. We’ll continue sharing any potentially interesting results from our cross-corpus queries on this blog, so watch this space for more!

Symbols prefixed to notes in WWO

2431 *
821 †
170 ‡
82 #rule
46 §
23 a
20 b
19 c
14 d
14 ∥
12 e
11 1
10 ]
9 ‖
8 |
7 (1)
7 (2)
7 (3)
7 (4)
7 C
7 x
7 ¶
6 (6)
6 (7)
6 (a)
6 A
6 B
6 D
6 E
6 f
6 F
6 ☞
5 [
5 (10)
5 (5)
5 (8)
5 (9)
4 (a)
4 **
4 (11)
4 (b)
4 g
4 G
3 (b
3 +
3 (12)
3 (13)
3 h
3 H
3 I
3 K
2 (1)
2 (2)
2 (3)
2 (4)
2 (c)
2 (d)
2 (e)
2 (14)
2 (15)
2 k
2 l
2 m
2 n
2 q
2 X
1 (f)
1 (g)
1 (h)
1 (i)
1 (k)
1 (l)
1 (*)
1 16
1 2
1 2.
1 (16)
1 (17)
1 (18)
1 (19)
1 (c)
1 i
1 j
1 L
1 M
1 N
1 O
1 o
1 P
1 p.
1 r
1 ſ
1 ”
1 ⫲