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Glossary of terms useful for this website

Paleographical terms


A text handwritten by its author.


The writing of an individual scribe, with individual characteristics.


The type of writing a scribe is trying to emulate.


Used by scribes to save time and space while writing, abbreviations often take the form of contractions, with missing letters indicated by a mark or symbol; sometimes symbols replace entire words.

Book hands

Clear and regular scripts used in book production.

Documentary hands

Scripts used for business and legal documents, letters, and other more ephemeral works; generally written rapidly and with less concern for clarity and regularity.


Upper case or capital letters, all the same height.


Lower case letters; they vary in their use of ascenders or descenders.


The study of historical forms of writing.


Single strokes of the pen; including the following:


A horizontal stroke that extends but does not cross the stem of letters such as E, F, and L.


A stroke that ascends above the body of a minuscule letter.


A horizontal stroke that attaches two other strokes, in letters such as A and H.


A stroke that is shared by two adjoining contrary curves, such as a b followed by an o; common in Gothic and Humanistic scripts.


The part of a minuscule letter form that does not include an ascender or descender.

     Bow (or lobe)

A circle or partial circle attached to a stem, in letters such as p, b, q, and d.


A stroke that descends below the body of a minuscule letter.


Two or more letters joined into a single glyph.


See Bow


A simple vertical stroke with no ascender or descender.

     Otiose stroke

A random stroke on the page, not intended as punctuation or an abbreviation indicator.


A small decorative line attached to the end of a stroke in some scripts.


Variation in the thickness of strokes of a script.


Variation of a stroke from complete vertical.


A minim with any ascender or descender that supports the rest of the letter.

Manuscript terms


A word (or phrase) written on the last page of a quire that matches the first word of the next quire, to assist the binder in assembling the quires in the correct order.


A book made of folded sheets of paper or parchment stacked together, usually bound on one edge and enclosed within covers.


An inscription made by the scribe, usually at the end of a book, recording information about the scribe and/or about how the book was produced.


Critical analysis of the conventions, protocols, and formulaic wording of types of historical documents.


Numbering of folios within a manuscript.


A leaf of a codex.


See Quire


Commentary on or explanation of the main text, often written between the lines or in the margins.


Color illustrations or decorations in a manuscript, sometimes including gold or silver.

Line fillers

Lines, symbols, or decoration used to complete a line of text not filled by script, essentially creating fully justified margins.


Literally “written by hand.” Abbreviated as MS (singular) or MSS (plural).


Decoration or writing in the margins of a manuscript, either part of the original program or added by a later reader.


A stand-alone illustration in a manuscript.


The layout of text, columns, rubrication, decoration, images, and so forth on a page.


One side of a folio within a codex.


Numbering of pages within a manuscript.


A writing support usually made during the early modern period from chopped and soaked cotton or linen rags pressed in a frame.


A writing support made from processed, stretched, and dried animal skins, usually sheep, calf, or goat; originally “vellum” was reserved for calfskin, but the word is now used interchangeably with “parchment.”

Pen flourishes

Decorative fine lines made with a pen, emanating from initial or other letters, often in colored ink.


The sets of folded paper or parchment of which a codex is formed; also called a “gathering.”

Quire signature

Identifying letters or numbers written within a quire, to assist the binder in assembling the folios in the correct order.


The front side of a folio within a codex.


A book made of sheets of paper pasted or sewn together to form one long sheet, then rolled up for storage.


A heading or initial capitals written in a different color from the main text, in order to help distinguish the various textual components.

Running title

A line of text written at the top edge of a folio to identify a work’s title or a subsection of it.


The individual who physically wrote a given document or book.


See Parchment


The back side of a folio within a codex.


For more comprehensive lists of related terms, see:

- The Glossaries page of the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts (based on Michelle P. Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (J. Paul Getty Museum: Malibu and British Library: London, 1994).

Codicologia (Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes, Comité International de Paléographie Latine, includes Denis Muzerelle, Vocabulaire Codicologique: Répertoire méthodique des termes français relatifs aux manuscrits avec leurs équivalents en anglais, italien, espagnol, 2002-3).