I am translating a medical text from the late 16th century. The author is Swiss. The text uses the ß character (like the German eszett).


toti amplißimo conseßui

Is this character being used in place of a double s?

Earlier in the text, a double s is used expressly:

Veru maioris doctrinae capessendae

What is the difference in usage between ss and ß?

Sample images: Eszett Eszett example

Double s Double s example

  • 1
    This usage is mentioned in the Wikipedia article for eszett. It doesn't have any sources, though, so I don't want to post that as an answer.
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 14:02
  • 1
    Yes, I saw the wikipedia entry, but I wondered if light could be shed on the difference in uses because I cannot find any pattern to when "ß" and "ss" are applied: in the wikipedia entry, it gives "eße" as an example, but in my text, two esses are used for the same word. Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 14:12
  • 3
    My suspicion is that this was more of a typographical decision than an orthographical one, and that there were no firm rules in place about which to use. The eszett is just a combination of the long and short s. Again, though, that's just my hunch.
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 14:24
  • 4
    The word in your first example is consessui. The "n" is indicated by the squiggle over the "o".
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 17:35

1 Answer 1


The modern German roman-type ß was developed at the end of the 19th century as an analogue of the blackletter ß, which was a ligature of ſ and z (which is reflected in its name) that had slowly acquired letter status and looked distinctively different from your ſs (more like ſʒ). Some of the new ß designs may have been inspired by your ſs and similar forms. However, at your time, no German letter ß with that form existed.

What you have in your text, is a ligature of the long s (ſ) and the round s (s). In my experience, in most languages there was considerable arbitrariness in the usage of s and ſ at that time.

What can be said for sure is that ſ was used at the beginning of words and s was used at the end. In every other case the distinction may depend on whether the s is located after the vowel of its syllable, at the end of a morpheme, and what letter is following it. The distinction may be also be covered by what was typographically nice or available¹. The blog Babelstone has a nice extensive survey of the usage of ſ and s in old texts.

As to why your author (or typesetter) decided to write ampliſsimo, cõſeſsui but eſſe and neceſſum is difficult to say without more example text. My best guess is that it was a fluke, arbitrary, or because the typesetter run out of one ligature glyph. However, it may also be that the writer considered that the ſs in ampliſsimo and cõſeſsui is positioned towards the end of a syllable or morpheme, while the ſſ in eſſe and neceſſum is not. The usage of est instead of eſt hints at a paradigm of that sort being employed here (in particular if is used at the beginning of words). However, to arrive at a useful conclusion, you have to look at more example words.

Source: For my work on a blackletter font (see my profile) and a user-friendly and correct long-s rule set for the German language, I looked at various old texts in that regard and also consumed a lot of information on the history of the Germanletter ß. The aforementioned blog post should also confirm many things.

¹ e.g., there are English texts in which husband is written exactly like this, probably because the typesetter did not have an ſb ligature available and also wanted to avoid a large gap between ſ and b – which becomes evident through the word being hyphenated huſ-band.

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