This movie was awesome, but its sense of style was by far the best part of it.
Rest in peace, medial s. You know, that thingie that you sometimes see in type that kind of looks like a lowercase f, but really should be a lowercase s, but doesn’t really look quite right by your modern standards. You know, the thing that you see on the title page when you pick up your 17th century copy of Paradise Lost for tranquil, fire-side reading on weeknights.
According to our swarm of friends at Wikipedia:The long s is derived from the old Roman cursive medial s. When the distinction between upper case (capital) and lower case (small) letter-forms became established, towards the end of the eighth century, it developed a more vertical form. In this period it was occasionally used at the end of a word, a practice which quickly died out but was occasionally revived in Italian printing between about 1465 and 1480. The short s was also normally used in the combination sf, for example in ſatisfaction.
So, clearly the use of the medial s has all but died out in contemporary typography and publishing. But when? This is where Google Books comes in. Google Labs released Books Ngram viewer on December 16th, and all sorts of smart folks have been tinkering with it. In short, it takes your query, and reports back how many hits occur over a span of time from the pool of data they’ve collected by scanning all those books they’ve been collecting.
The thing, though, is that the optical character recognition system that Google uses when scanning books largely picks up the medial s as a lowercase f. So, with a bit of smart terminology, we can get some metrics by measuring “because” versus “becaufe” and “and so” versus “and fo”.
1800! That seems to be when the medial s died out on us, left to typographic and linguistic curiosity, another weird shape in the Glyphs palette of your Adobe software. Odd how tidy it is, no?