Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Missing Letter "J"

A while back, I asked if anyone knew when the letter "J" came in to common usage.  The other day while looking through some of my old cross stitch charts, I came upon The Katy Bemis Sampler.  It is a reproduction sampler dated 1787.  (Note the $3.00 price tag.)

There inside the leaflet was an explanation.

"Many samplers, dated well into the nineteenth century, seem to be missing the letter "J".  Actually, the "J" is a relatively young letter, coming into common usage sometime after 1820.  Young needleworkers, such at Katy Bemis, were stitching the alphabet as they knew and used it . . . without considering the "J" as an individual letter.
The letter "J" has its beginning in the letter "I", beginning as an alternate form of the lower case "i".  Because the letter was so tiny and inconspicuous, especially in the flowing cursive writing, people began adding a slightly hooked tail to a lower case "i" whenever it was used to begin a word.  (In English, words rarely end in an "i" and because some time earlier, the "new" letter "y" had replaced the "i" as an ending sound.)  This is how the letter developed its form or shape.
The sound, or value of the letter "j" came about to distinguish between the vowel sound of "i" as we know it today and a consonant sound of a soft "g" (like George) which was also noted by the letter "i" . . . that is until about 1600.  Some time in the 17th century, people began to use an "i" to represent only vowel sounds and the "j" to represent the consonant soft "g" sound whenever it appeared in a word.  However, they still regarded it as ONE letter . . . that of on "i".  The "j" was simply a form of the letter "i".  For that reason dictionaries had no "J" section.  Words like "juxtaposition" are found in a 19th century dictionary in the "I" section.  And in that same dictionary,  "juxtaposition" is quite naturally followed by "ivy"."

Clear as mud, right?

Here is one of my antique samplers dated 1827 that contains the letter "J" . . .

. . . and a redwork sampler dated 1892 that does not.  (I purchased this sampler because my initials are LF.)

We're back to wintertime here in Ohio.  Low 30s and a few flakes coming down.  Only 8 more days until spring!!!

Thanks so much for stopping by.
Pug hugs :)


  1. That was really interesting Lauren. hugs Cheri

  2. Evening Lauren, oh my, how interesting is that....Thanks, Francine.

  3. I'm glad that you came upon that interesting piece of information.

    That new snow will not last long. The snow is melting fast here in Ottawa. I'm sure ready for spring and I want so much to see little shoots coming out of the ground.

    Sending some warm thoughts your way.


  4. Hello Lauren! My Goodness! Very interesting! Each of our children's names begin with J! They would've certainly sounded funny with an I! (; We've also had colder weather and a few flakes (snow) today in SE Ohio..I am counting the days with you! (:

  5. Interesting history on lettering in samplers, something to look for if I ever see any in a store up north.


  6. That is very interesting. I knew some of it but not all of it. I love your samplers. They are so pretty. I am so sorry it is cold there. I had to dig out shorts today. I hate shorts but it was so hot. I am not a happy camper about it either. I would gladly trade. :) We might hit 90 by Friday, I can't even imagine that in March.

  7. I have the same Katie Bemis sampler chart, Lauren...small world! Interesting post.


  8. Love that chart, have never seen it. Such an interesting post and I love the antique samplers. thanks for sharing!

  9. Very interesting Lauren.I never noticed till you pointed it out.We are back to cold too.Warm Blessings!~Amy

  10. Very interesting! Thanks for the history and English lesson.


  11. Always fun to learn something new...

  12. Wonderful to solve the mystery of the missing j...love learning about the history of the early samplers. Thanks for the lesson.

  13. LOVE all the sampler focus today Lauren! I did not realize you had some antique samplers in your collection - they are just lovely - espcially love the redwork one. Always interesting to hear the "j" info again. Thanks for a great post ! mel

  14. Fun history lesson Lauren. I knew about the J, but still get confused with it because, as you say, the stitchers stitched what they knew, and what they knew when, depended much on where they lived and their circumstances....your sampler examples exemplify THAT lesson perfectly....Love, love, love your old samplers....Another of my weaknesses.... Smiles & Hugs ~ Robin

  15. Glad to read all this. I have a sampler that was my grandmothers and it is missing the letter "J" it also has the word Ostern 1908. Found out the word Ostern means Easter. Do you know anything about this type of sampler?


Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. Your comments are much appreciated :)