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Do I really need an Å¿ (long s) in my typeface?


Question

From what I can tell, the long s (ſ) is obsolete. According to Wikipedia (that well known fount of infallibility), it fell out of use in the U.S. and U.K. in the early 1800's[1] and it mainly survives in modern usage either in other forms (such as the integral symbol ∫), fraktur script (including a few logotypes) and historical reproductions[2].

If that is the case, why do so many modern typefaces include the character?

The following, for example, are roughly a ¼ of the "ſ"s available in the fonts I happen to have active at this minute (not installed, actually activated—à la font manager).

enter image description here

So what's the deal here? And more importantly, is there any point in me including one in any typeface I design (assuming it isn't a Fraktur script or historical reproduction)?

2016/10/12
1
26
10/12/2016 8:34:00 AM

Accepted Answer

Being under the illusion that I am somewhat of an expert on the long s¹, I mostly agree with your assessment. The only slight addition I would like to make are texts talking about historical texts. On German Language SE, several answers (such as this one) would look rather ugly if the long s weren’t supported by the font used for the site.

If that is the case, why do so many modern typefaces include the character?

Making an educated guess here: Because it is part of the Latin Extended-A Unicode block.

This block contains mostly characters that are used by some European language using a Latin-based alphabet². Therefore covering this block has become in important selling point for fonts, and many font websites will give your font some sort of badge if you do this. Of course, this criterion is somewhat silly and it is usually much more relevant that your font supports, e.g., ș and ț for Romanian or ə for Azeri.

There is a handful of other such characters that are only widely supported for a similar reason:

  • ʼn is also part of Latin Extended-A and used by Afrikaans, but its use is strongly deprecated by Unicode,
  • ¦ is part of Latin-1 Supplement, but not even Wikipedia can tell me what it’s good for nowadays³.
  • While ¬ (logical negation) from Latin-1 Supplement is used in logics and mathematics, I have often seen it in fonts with hardly any support for mathematical symbols (e.g., lacking a proper minus sign).
  • ¤ from Latin-1 Supplement is a general currency symbol which I have never seen in use, probably thanks to Unicode.
  • Æ’ from Mac OS Roman was used as a currency symbol for the Dutch guilder but since the advent of the Euro, it is only used by currencies used by a few hundred thousand people. It is also used for phonetics and the Ewe language, but these need many more special characters that are usually not supported by the fonts in question.

¹ I worked on a fraktur font for several years, compiled a set of long-s rules for the German language, and researched into long-s usage in other languages. You can be sure that I notice a long s when I see it.
² In fact, with Basic Latin, Latin-1 Supplement, and Latin Extended-A, the most prominent uncovered languages are Romanian and Welsh.
³ Which is probably accurate and not Wikipedia’s fault.

2017/04/13
27
4/13/2017 12:42:00 PM