Marco Cimarosti <marco.cimarosti@...> wrote:

> Why is "ß" often called "es zet" in German?
> I know that today this sign is a ligature for "ss". But, in ancient times,
> was it also a ligature for "sz"? Or was it *only* a ligature for "sz"?
> Where can I find a history of this sign, on-line or on paper?

A search through my downloaded copy of the archives of the Unicode mailing list
<unicode@...> unearthed the following from Marc Küster, dated
1997-08-18, and from Otto Stolz, dated 1999-08-26. I have done some trivial
cleanup on the formatting (not the content) of these two postings.

Obviously there are differences of opinion concerning the true genesis of ß, and
this is where true scholarly research begins.

Note that the structure of the Unicode mailing list archive has been changed so
that a search engine is involved, rather than raw files. This makes things
easier for some and more difficult and annoying for others (like me).


-Doug Ewell
posting from work in Irvine, California

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From: Marc Wilhelm Kuester <>
To: "'unicode@...'" <unicode@...>
Subject: Sharp s/Ligaturing
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 10:25:00 +0200
Return-Receipt-To: <>
Encoding: 45 TEXT

Alain LaBonte wrote:
> Interestingly enough, in old French writings, the ß (long s) ligature is
> omnipresent

The long s U+017F and with it the sharp s ß ligature were originally
properties of the gothic script rather than the German language, and
therefore existed whereever that script was employed --- also in French and
English where it was en vogue, as you have indicated, in the XVIIth and
XVIIIth century. Likewise, when Antiqua was used in Germany around 1800, as
indeed it quite frequently was, no ß was printed. Only in the course of the
last century the ligature was taken over into Antiqua and became what it is
today, the letter sharp s.

John Cowan wrote:
> As its name ("ess-zed", pronounced /Es tsEt/) indicates, it was originally
> a ligature of "long s" and "z". It is still correct, though probably very
> pedantic, to replace it with "sz",

While many Germans call ß Ess-zet, this rests on a mistaken assumption of
its origin. Once upon a time a ligature between long s and z did exist; it
has nothing in common with the present sharp s (which is the only correct
name of ß). Likewise, it has never been correct to decompose ß as sz on a
typewriter without that letter (except in one very special and rare case,
namely to avoid ambiguity when uppercasing in instances like MASSE (mass,
normally printed Masse) and MASZE (measurements; units, normally printed
Maße)). It must be "ss".

For a more detailed history of the sharp s cf. e.g. Jan Tschichold:
"Meisterbuch der Schrift", Ravensburg 1965, pp. 42ff

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From: Otto Stolz <Otto.Stolz@...>
Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 1999 19:19:50 -0600
References: <9908230722.AA29047@...>
X-Mailer: Z-Mail (3.2.1 15feb95)
To: Unicode List <unicode@...>
Subject: Genesis of Sharp-S (was: Contra Universal Writing Systems)
Cc: Kenneth Whistler <kenw@...>, Markus Kuhn <Markus.Kuhn@...>

Am 1999-08-23 um 0:22 H hat Markus Kuhn geschrieben:
> Would it be possible to add to LATIN SMALL LETTER SHARP S U+00DF a
> cross-reference to U+0073 + U+017f in the Unicode 3.0 book? [...]
> Making the reader aware that the sharp s derives
> historically from a U+0073 + U+017f ligature will hopefully lead font
> designers without experience in German typography to coming up with more
> appropriate glyphs than the common beta variant.

Actually, the Sharp-S is derived from a ligature of U+017F followed by
U+0292, and I suggest to add a remark to U+00DF saying so.

In medeaval writing of German, U+0292 denoted a voiceless S sound, which had
replaced the T sound during the 2nd (German) sound-shift (aka Grimm's law).
Later (about 14th century), the U+0292 glyph was used for the German Z
character (pronounced ts), and the former U+0292 was replaced with SZ (S plus
U+0292, i. e. an U+0292 to be pronounced like an S). In German handwriting
and print, S was written with two different characters (Round S U+0073, and
Long S U+017F, depending on particular spelling rules). According to these
rules, the above mentioned SZ was regularly written as U+017F U+0292, which
formed a ligature and eventually evolved into U+00DF, a character named
"Eszet" (in reminiscence of its genesis). E. g. "Teuerdank", printed in 1517,
of which I own a facsimile, uses U+0073 and U+017F for (modern) S, U+0292 for
(modern) Z, and a ligature of U+017F and U+0292, i. e. U+00DF, for (modern) ß
("modern" to be understood modulo later spelling reforms, of course). And so
did all Fraktur prints until the early 20th century, as far as I have see
(and if memory does serve me alright -- I have not checked this detail).

Jacob Grimm: "Deutsches Wörterbuch", vol. 8, fasc. 8 (1963),
col. 1573 and 1574.

In German hand-writing and print (Fraktur), the U+017F glyph has a descender
(in contrast to the example given in the Unicode Standard 2.0). So have
U+0292, and the resulting ligature.

In roman print (Antiqua), U+017F usually does not have a descender (as the
example glyph given in the Unicode Standard). Consequently, the U+0292 part
of the ligature is raised to the ground line, resulting in the example glyph
given for U+00DF.

In some Antiqua fonts, however, the right part is rather derived from the
U+0073 (Round S) glyph, as in the fonts Albertus medium (Hewlett-Packard),
Book Antiqua (Hewlett-Packard), Bookman Old Style (Monotype), Univers
(Hewlett-Packard), and less conspicuously in Arial (Monotype) that comes with
every MS-Windows installation. Also the renowned typographer Jan Tschichold,
has adopted the view (in contrast to the history established by J. Grimm, and
elsewhere) that "ß" were derived from a ligature of Long-S and Round-S
(U+017F and U+0073), and has designed his fonts, accordingly.

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