Sunday, 30 January 2011

Audrey fforbes-Hamilton

credit: BBC
Penelope Keith
If you know 'To the Manor Born' you will most certainly be familiar with the fact that Penelope (Anne Constance) Keith played the character of Audrey fforbes-Hamilton in this British sitcom aired by the Beeb. I've kept wondering (perhaps like some of you) why fforbes is spelled with two lowercase letters <f>. This is something we do not stumble upon in English spelling very often, do we? The pronunciation of <ff> is unambiguously /f/ - so no doubt about this fact.

But the spelling of initial double <f> looks weird to the modern eye:
Ashleigh Maule-ffinch (designer)
Sir Jasper ffinch-ffarrowmere (fictitious name in "A Slice of Life" by P.G. Wodehouse)
Charles John ffoulkes (British historian)
Crispina ffrench (designer of clothes)

The explanation points to the spelling practice in scripts in medieval times during which double f was sometimes used to represent the majuscule F.
Here's an extract of a poem entitled "Lithes and I sall tell yow tyll" by Laurence Minot:

credit: Euan Nelson
Halidon Hill
As you can see the first line starts with the two minuscules <ff> representing the majuscule <F>. The poem was written in 1333 and describes the battle of Halidon Hill which was fought during the Second War of Scottish Independence.

One even finds combinations of majuscule <F> and minuscule <f> at the beginning of surnames. Here's one I spotted by mere chance in the London Gazette no. 48528 of the 18th of February 1981: