Thursday 16 June 2011

The Tittle in the Title

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, who seems to have liked obscure words, said:

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Raising the question, what in the name of all that's holy is a jot or a tittle?

The Hebrew law to which Jesus was referring was written down, and Jesus is talking about handwriting. The gospels were written in Greek and the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet was ι. This ι was the equivalent of our i and was called iota. That's why the Vice President of FIFA recently said that he was guilty of:

Not a single iota of wrongdoing.

Meaning not even the smallest amount. I believe him.

Jesus' jot is referring to exactly the same thing: a very small thing indeed. But English has the advantage of Greek. We go smaller than ι.

What's the difference between the Greek ι and the English i? The tittle on the top. Tittle has nothing to do with titillate (which comes from titillationem meaning tickling) or with tit (which is a variant of teat). The tittle is the little dot over an i or a j and, because it's up at the top of the letter like a title, it comes from the same Latin route: titulus.

Oddly, the Romans didn't call it a titulus. They called it an apex. The Greeks called it a keraia and the Hebrews called it a qots, which meant thorn.

So the title of this post contains three tittles, but none of them, unfortunately, are as beautiful as the tittles on the London Underground. The Tube has its own special typeface called Johnston in which the tittles are diamonds. They're beautiful, and not one of them shall pass away until the ends of all eternity, or until the Tube runs smoothly, whichever happens first.

A good Christian font

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