Skip to main content
Help

Non-registered mode. Register to save your course progress.

Here, you will find a glossary of manuscript and book terms.  The module or video in which the term is introduced is included in parentheses.

Aggregator

A tool which allows you to search across a number of online resources at the same time. See for example: Manuscripts Online or MESA (3.2: Finding digital manuscripts online).

Alum-tawed skin

A skin membrane treated with alum salts to make it more durable; referenced in this course as the binding thread combining two or more sections of parchment scroll (3.4: The scroll).

Aspect

The overall appearance or impression of the script (5.4: Details of script and hand)

Awl

A sharp implement used for pricking; see also 'Cultellus' (4.3: Pricking and Ruling 1)

Bespoke book

A book commissioned by someone for a particular purpose; a custom-made book (6.3: Scribal Practices and Manuscript Ownership)

Bevelled edge

A style of cutting the wood of a book board at a slant; also spelled "beveled" (3.3: Binding).

Bifolium

A sheet folded once, forming two folios (or 4 pages). One can think of a bifolium as the smallest book. The front of a folio is called the recto and the back is called the verso; plural: bifolia. (1.2: What is a manuscript?)

Biting

When two adjacent letters which curve in opposite directions (e.g. 'p' and 'o') merge or overlap. (Week 1 Practicum)

Board

The bound, wooden blocks that would cover a book; called boards because they were made from wood (3.3: Binding).

Bone folder

A sharp, pointed object used to fold book materials crisply. Bone folders were also used rule paper by leaving an imprint or score in the membrane. (4.3: Pricking and Ruling 1)

Breviary

A liturgical book (usually written in Latin) containing hymns, prayers and other religious texts for daily use (6.3: Scribal Practices and Manuscript Ownership)

Capital

Large letters that typically stand out from the dominant script and are sometimes illuminated. Although we now tend to think of them as 'upper case' letters, this is anachronistic when talking about medieval manuscripts because 'upper case' is a print term.

Catchword

A visual marker on a page that would inform the book compiler what the first word on the following quire ought to be in order to keep the text in the right order as it is made into book form (4.2: The Folio: A Case Study)

Chain Lines

Thin vertical wires widely spaced out parallel to the shorter side of the mold. (2.4: Paper)

Chained book

A book that was fastened with a chain to a certain location; instead of being portable, these books were intended to stay in one spot (3.3: Binding).

Chirograph

Another term for manuscript. From the Greek χειρο 'hand' and γραϕος 'writing', whereas "manuscript" is derived from the Latin. (1.2: What is a manuscript?)

Codex

A collection of folded sheets sewn together to form a book.

Codicology

The study of books as material objects (5.1: Introduction to Paleography)

Colophon

A statement at the end of a book, or text, giving information about the creation of the book or text including date, the name of the scribe, the patron, etc.

Collation

The way in which the quires or gatherings are put together. (See 4.2: The Folio: A Case Study; especially around 1:20 "C1, C2, C3, C4...")

Cultellus

A small knife used for pricking; see also "Awl' (4.1: The Folio: Overview)

Cursive/current

From the Latin verb meaning "to run", a style of writing that runs together because the writing instrument is not picked up after each stroke or letter. Cursive, also current, scripts differ sharply from uncial forms.

Deckle

A wooden frame on which laid lines and chain lines are attached to make the mold. (2.4: Paper)

Digitization

The process of creating a digital representation of a physical object. This process includes, but is not limited to, digital photography, descriptive information, structural information, historical information, transcriptions, and other data about the physical object.

Diploma/ta

Any legal, ecclesiastical, or diplomatical document used for official purposes (3.5: Single-leaf documents).

Drypoint

The style of ruling in which a hard, pointed instrument was used to score (or scratch, or indent) the ruling lines into the membrane or paper.

Duct/Ductus

The way the script is formed, that is the direction of pen strokes, number and order of the strokes, and the angle at which the pen is held in the scribe's hand. (5.4: Details of script and hand)

ex libris

Literally 'from the books' i.e. 'from the library'; an ex libris inscription in a book indicates its ownership, by an institution or an individual.

Facsimile

A copy or reproduction of a physical object. A facsimile might simply be a comprehensive collection of photographs or digital images from a manuscript, or might include recreations of the binding structures and other parts of the original book.

Flesh side

The innermost (or deep) surface of a skin membrane. Sometimes the evidence of fatty tissues and vein channels are detectable on the flesh side. (1.2: What is a manuscript?)

Fleshing Knife

The flat scraping tool used to remove impurities and make smooth a membrane as it is turned into parchment. Another term for a fleshing knife is 'lunellum' named because of its half moon-like shape.

Foliation

The numbering (or lettering) of folios in a gathering or book. In foliation, not every page is marked but every leaf. Usually the recto was numbered in foliation while the verso was not marked.

Folio

A leaf of paper or parchment, whether loose or bound into a book. Each folio has a recto (front) and a verso (back). Many medieval manuscripts are foliated rather than paginated, that is, their folios are numbered, usually on the recto only. The sequence of pages would be: 1r, 1v, 2r, 2v, 3r, 3v etc. Thus a manuscript with 100 leaves or folios would have 200 pages. Folio is often abbreviated to f. or fol.; the plural is often given as ff. or fols.

Fore edge

The edge of the book opposite the spine or backstrip, usually not covered by the book's binding (3.3: Binding).

Gathering

A gathering or quire is generally a group of leaves folded and nested inside each other and then sewn together through a central fold. Gathering are usually grouped alongside each other and sewn together to form a codex or book.

Gregory's Rule

The medieval collation practice of arranging quires/gatherings in such a way that the flesh side faced flesh side and the hair side faced hair side. (4.1: The Folio: Overivew)

Guide letter

A small letter in manuscripts and early printed books that indicates what letter a rubricator or illuminator will later inscribe. (1.4: Why do old books matter?)

Hair side

The outermost or superficial surface of a skin membrane. Sometimes the hair follicles are detectable on the hair side. (1.2: What is a manuscript?)

Hand

The actual manifestation of the script on the page, meaning a particular scribe's characteristics or tendencies in handling its script (5.3: Script and hand)

Harrow

The frame that stretches out a membrane as it dries in the parchment-making process. (1.2: What is a manuscript?)

Head/top edge

The edge of the book left uncovered by the binding, corresponds to the top of the page as determined by the direction of the script within (3.3: Binding).

Hinge

Where the cover and the spine are joined (3.3: Binding)

Indulgence

An ecclesiastical document that remitted sins; for this course, a common form of diplomata (3.5: Single-leaf documents).

Insular

A term used to describe script belonging to or inspired by the practices of the British isles (5.3: Script and hand)

Joint/outer hinge

A hinge is where the cover and the spine are joined; the joint or outer hinge is the hinge from the outside of the book (3.3: Binding)

Laid Lines

Thin horizontal wires narrowly spaced out parallel to the longer side of the mold. (2.4: Paper)

Lime

A solution of calcium hydroxide used by parchment makers to remove hair from animal skins.

littera notabilior

Translated as 'a more notable letter,' this enlarged and usually decorated letter signals the beginning of a section or sentence of a text (pl. litterae notabilores). (Week 1 Practicum; 5.3: Script and hand))

Macaronic

Using a mixture of languages within a textual work; usually Latin with a vernacular (6.1: Scribal Practices)

Majuscule

Letters whose forms sit entirely (or mostly) above the ruled line. Capital letters, in effect. These letters are formed differently than the minuscule letters; they are usually larger and denote the beginning of a new syntactical section. Again, although it is anachronistic to use this term, these are what we think of today as 'uppercase letters'. (5.3: Script and hand)

Manuscript

From Latin manus ‘hand’ and scriptus ‘written’. It means, broadly, anything written by hand, though this may take many different forms (scroll, book, individual leaf of parchment, etc.). (1.2: What is a manuscript?)

Membrane

Membrane is another word for the skin upon which medieval manuscripts are written. It is used generically in this course to include vellum and parchment and all other collagen-based supports.

Metadata

Data about data. In relation to digitized objects, this could include technical information about the images themselves, the relationships between component parts of the object, rights and use statements, descriptions of the objects that have been digitized, etc.

Minim

The basic vertical stroke of early scripts that formed the letters i, n, m, u (also v). (Week 1 Practicum)

Minuscule

A small letter (not a majuscule or capital) whose main height is the same height as the minim stroke or an 'o' but usually has a number of ascenders and descenders (parts of the graph that go above or below the ruled line). It may be helpful to think of these as 'lower case', but this is a term from print culture and therefore anachronistic and incorrect. (5.3: Script and Hand)

Mise-en-page

The layout of the page, refers to anything from the number of columns, to the ruling style, the margins, etc.

Mold

A wire frame on which pulp is spread while making paper. (2.4: Paper)

Neume

A symbol used as an early form of musical notation. (3.3: Binding).

Pagination

The numbering of every page of a book (or other like form). In pagination, the recto and verso both receive numbers as opposed to foliation.

Palimpsest

A parchment that allows for erasures and rewritings because of its membranous layers.

Paleography

The study of old writing (5.1: Introduction to Paleography)

Paper

A writing substrate handmade from rags. Became the primary substrate with the emergence and primacy of print.

Papyrus

Writing substrate made of the reeds that grow along the Nile River. One of the primary substrates of the classical world and consistently took the form of scrolls.

Parchment

The membrane substrate made from animal skins (chiefly sheep skins).

Pastedown

The first and last pages of a book that were glued down to the covers (3.3: Binding)

Plummet

A lead-point ruling instrument which left a trace rather than a score (as a bone folder). (4.3: Pricking and Ruling 1)

Pricking

The marking of a page with a knife (e.g. a 'cultellus') or other pointed object (e.g. a compass) to prepare it for ruling. 'Pricking' also refers to the marks or punctures resulting from the process of pricking. (4.1: The Folio: Overview)

Punctus

A punctuation mark consisting of a single dot, similar to the modern period. Used originally to signal a short or minor pause.

Punctus elevatus

A mark of punctuation that looks like a period with a curved tick above it. This is a heavier mark of punctuation than a punctus. It denotes the end of a major sense unit, roughly equivalent to a modern clause (though not necessarily a complete sentence).

Punctus versus

A punctuation mark consisting of a dot and additional mark below the dot, like the modern semi-colon. Used to mark the ends of sentences or more substantial sections.

Quire

A group of folios which, when gathered together, form a book.

Raised bands

The threads or cords that bind the gatherings together with the covers which caused a grooves on the backstrip (3.3: Binding)

Recto

The front side of a leaf of parchment or paper.

Rubric/Rubrication/Rubricator

Red writing or marking in a manuscript or early book intended to catch the viewer's attention. A specialist in such writing is called a rubricator. (1.4: Why do old books matter?; 5.3: Script and hand)

Ruling

The process of marking a frame and/or series of lines on a page/folio to guide the scribe in writing. 'Ruling' refers both to the process of organizing the page in this way as well as the lines that result from this process. (4.1: The Folio: Overview)

Scribal Practices

How a particular scribe functioned once they were set before the prepared manuscript page (5.2: First things to notice)

Scribe

Broadly, a copyist or transcriber of medieval texts.

Script

The style or model of writing a scribe had in mind while writing the text. (5.3: Script and hand)

Scriptorium

A medieval writing office.

Shelf mark

The alphabetical/numerical designation for a manuscript in its repository (3.1: Shelf marks and catalogs)

Sigillography

The study of seals, i.e. wax seals used in dimplomata. (3.5: Single-leaf documents)

Signature

In book-making, a signature (or signature mark) was a method of labeling certain parts of quires/gatherings in order to maintain the correct page order when compiling the material together. See "Gathering" and (3.3: Binding; 4.2: The Folio: A Case Study)

Spine/backstrip

The binding that connects the two boards (3.3: Binding)

Stay

A manuscript stay is used to fasten the boards together through the spine (3.3: Binding)

Stint

The whole effort of a scribe's work on a manuscript (5.5: Letters)

Substrate/support

The medium onto which text is written. (2.2: Papyrus)

Tail/bottom edge

One of the unbound edges of a codex that is formed by the bottom edge of the leaves inside the book (3.3: Binding)

Tironian nota

An abbreviation for Latin et or English and that looks like the number 7.

Turn-in

Where the leather (or other material) of a book binding folds over the boards to form a total wrap around the boards (3.3: Binding)

Vatman

The person who is working at the vat containing the waterlogged pulp whose job it is to shape the pulp into sheets of paper.

Vellum

The membrane substrate made from animal skins (chiefly calf skins).

Vernacular

In the medieval period, a national language that is not Latin (5.3: Script and hand)

Verso

The back of a leaf of parchment or paper.

Watermark

A design or image attached to a mold while making paper used to identify the paper makers.

Wrapper

A temporary paper cover of a book (3.3: Binding)

Yapp edge

The form of binding that extends beyond the dimensions of the paper to create an overhanging flap (3.3: Binding)