The Type Before Dots

Graphic Design Latin Typography

String of minims in Latin type

mimi numinum niuium minimi munium nimium uini muniminum imminui uiui minimum uolunt

(Latin; "The smallest mimes of the gods of snow do not wish at all in their life that the great duty of the defenses of the wine be diminished.")

Back before letters had dots, 14th century scribes constructed this Latin sentence to illustrate that it, when articulated in the era’s typical blackletter typeface, appears as a series of minims. In the lexicon of paleography (the study of historical handwriting), a minim is the basic, vertical, short stroke used in letters like i, m, n, and u.

The apparent ambiguity demonstrated by the exaggerated example in question led to the development of dotted letters. Scribes also adopted substituting u before n, m, or v with o in order to break the string of minims. This is evident in the spelling of the words love, honey, and come where replacing a short ŭ with an o has persisted; thank God.

Blackletter evolved into specific typefaces; the first of such being Fraktur. The typeface was created by printer Hieronymus Andreae for books and things ordained by Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I, circa 1520. Over the following centuries, currently familiar serif typefaces became more common in Europe. However, German speaking countries sustained the Fraktur affair.

Nazi Germany initially regarded Fraktur typefaces as true Germanic script. Publications using more modern “Roman” typefaces were admonished for being under “Jewish” influence. A reversal of these considerations occurred January, 1941 when Hitler’s secretary Martin Bormann sent out the official memo that Fraktur typefaces were prohibited “Jewish letters”. The speculation is that Hitler thought Fraktur typefaces would make German harder to learn and impede that whole conquest thing, or perhaps the change of heart was to instigate infighting or whatever. Later, Bormann was hung for crimes against humanity.

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