Google Penance: Medieval Punctuation Edition

Edit: Thanks to the commenters who pointed out that both I and my google-using fellow idjut had mispelled the term in question. Information on the Tironean note can be found here.

It’s been some time since I did a Google Penance post, but today someone came here searching for information on the Tyronean Note, a symbol used like an ampersand, to represent ‘and’. I did some googling myself, and there is- unsurprisingly- no information out there on this handy little sign. (My google ranking for ‘Tyronean note’ is higher than it is for ‘Naked Philologist’…)

I do not know much about it, but here is what I do know:

* The Tyronean Note, represented as ‘7’, is used in Anglo-Saxon texts to represent ‘and’. The ampersand (“&”) is also in use in Anglo-Saxon England- Wikipedia cites an example from Byrtferth’s letters. It wouldn’t surprise me if one were in use for Latin texts and the other for Anglo-Saxon, but I have no evidence for this, and I suspect it would change over the course of the period anyway.

* The Tyronean Note looks just like a 7, except that- as in some old ladies’ handwriting- it has a descender instead of an ascender. (That is, if you were in kindergarten, you’d start your 7 at the line which marks the top of your small letter ‘m’, and you would carry it down to the line which marks the bottom of your ‘y’.)

* In modern editions of Anglo-Saxon texts, either a number seven is used, or the word ‘and/ond’ is written out. Sometimes an ampersand [&] is used in place of a 7, but that doesn’t seem to be the standard practice.

* I was once told that the Note had classical origins, but unfortunately, I cannot tell you what they were or where they came from. Nor, sadly, do I know how long the Note was in use for.

The only other thing I know is that I like the Tyronean Note very much, and I now use it in my own notetaking. I’ve never been able to draw &, and used to use + instead. 7 requires one less lift of the pen, and I am a lazy person. Plus, it makes me feel extra nerdy.

Can anyone else contribute some exciting information about the Tyronean Note for the edification of the internet?


11 Responses to “Google Penance: Medieval Punctuation Edition”

  1. Aven Says:

    Actually, I think it’s “Tironian” note — after Tiro, Cicero’s secretary. If you look it up in Wikipedia with that spelling, there’s a reasonable sized entry, with the 7 and other symbols described. So yes, definitely Classical antecedents!

  2. CyberMedievalist Says:

    It’s actually “Tironian” notes, which might be why your correspondent had difficulty finding information. Tironian notes are a system of shorthand named after Tiro, a secretary of Cicero, according to a possibly apocryphal account attributable to Eusebius. Here is one good link on the subject:

    I would point out as well that the Tironian note form for “et” was extensively used in Ireland, including for the Irish equivalent word “agus,” well into the later medieval period. The ampersand form is usually considered to be a characteristic of Carolin minuscule if I recall correctly. A useful printed work on the subject would be “Notae latinae, an account of abbreviation in Latin MSS. of the early minuscule period (c. 700-850)” by W. M. Lindsay, 1915, which is delightfully online at,M1

  3. CyberMedievalist Says:

    That should, of course, be “Caroline” not “Carolin.” /blush

  4. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    Some background and a reference to actual scholarship here. It’s a whole big system. Pope Sylvester II signed off his papal Bulls with his given name in Tironians as well as his papal title, it’s one of the ways we know to suspect that he really did look over the Bulls being issued in his name. Other popes don’t all seem to have. Interesting stuff, but definitely filed under `arcane’.

  5. highlyeccentric Says:

    Well, colour me embarrassed… I shall correct my spelling errors after work today 🙂

  6. Bo Says:

    yes, it’s v. common for ‘ocus/agus’ in Irish – I’m trying to get a book published and one of the things the reviewers noted was that the Press must use the correct symbol for the Tironian note, and NOT the numeral 7. Apparently using the numeral is fine for a thesis, though (thank goodness – Word has no suitable symbol!).

  7. highlyeccentric Says:

    Is there one in the Junicode font package? I’ve never thought to look, figuring that everyone uses 7s…

  8. CyberMedievalist Says:

    U+204A is labeled “Tironian Sign Et” in the Junicode Font. It looks a good deal less like the modern numeral 7 than most I’ve seen in the wild, but it will serve.

  9. Sabledrake Says:

    So, does that have anything to do with the ampersand being on the ‘7’ key on most keyboards? Or just coincidence?


  10. highlyeccentric Says:

    I’ve no idea, Tim! One would have to ask typewriter designers of yore, I suppose.

  11. highlyeccentric Says:

    Cybermedievalist- thanks very much for the tip-off! The Tironean sign is now installed in my personal Word shortcuts…

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