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What Is a Tittle?

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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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A tittle is a term for the lowercase dot used at the top of certain letters such as "i" and "j" in both printing and handwriting. The use of this dot dates back to 11th-century Latin manuscripts in which the scribes realized the need to add a small mark that would separate these lowercase letters from the ones immediately before or after them. The tittle is also known as a diacritic dot in the study of typography, meaning that it is a distinctive mark on a letter that does not change its overall sound or connotation within the spoken English language. Due to its very small size, this dot is also referenced in the phrase "jot and tittle" that is sometimes used to describe every last minute detail of a given subject.

Including a tittle in handwritten letters can be done with various styles, depending on individual penmanship. Some people develop the habit of substituting an open circle for the small solid dot. Others can even use symbols such as hearts in place of this dot, although this practice is often viewed as somewhat unprofessional or even juvenile.

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The use of this mark in typography is fairly standard in fonts regardless of whether they are stylized with ending tails called serifs. The lowercase "i" and "j" can have both dotted and non-dotted versions in some languages other than English; examples include Turkish and Irish. These letter variations usually have different sounds as well as meanings in words of these languages. Words that have various pronunciations sometimes need to be written with accent marks such as pairs of dots usually above the "i." Typing these words in word processing programs can sometimes present problems because including an accent mark may not always be possible with many standard fonts.

When every little part of a topic is very closely scrutinized, some people may remark that every "jot and tittle" is being examined. This saying recalls the small size of the diacritic dot and the fact that including it completes the letter despite its minute size. The expression's first documented appearance is usually attributed to a Bible passage from the Book of Matthew. Hebrew scribes who originally translated this text designated the jot as the line used to cross letters such as the lowercase "t." This kind of saying is also considered similar to others such as "dot every 'i' and cross every 't'".

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