Josna Rege

315. Ligatures

In blogs and blogging, Media, Music, reading, Stories, Words & phrases, Work, writing on April 16, 2015 at 9:48 pm

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A ligature is something used to bind, unite, connect: in surgery, a thread used to stitch an incision back together; in musical notation, a compound note indicating that a group of notes should be sung as one syllable; and in typography, a printed or written character consisting of two or more letters or characters joined together (Merriam-Webster).

fi-garamond-ligature1-1Why would one want to join letters together? So that they flow in a way that is more pleasing to the eye and therefore easier to read. In letterpress printing, parts of some letters would butt up too close to their neighboring letter or stand too stiffly apart from it. Ligatures unite them so that they no longer looked ungainly, but on the contrary, impart an elegant flourish to the line.

In English the most common ligatures are ff, fi, fl ffi and ffl. There are many more possible ones. Some of them fit together so naturally that they look better together than they do apart, while others draw swirly, swashbuckling attention to themselves.

ligatures

An interesting fact I ought to have known but if I did, had entirely forgotten: the most common ligature in English is in fact the ampersand (&), which is a stylized “et” or “and” in Latin.

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Of course, ligatures are by no means restricted to English. Just to take Devanagari, one other script that I happen to be familiar with: it abounds in ligatures, which make long compound words so much easier to read. Here’s a set of Devanagiri ligatures.

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And here’s a long and, I must say, ungainly ligature made up of four different letters. It looks a bit like a yogi—or rather, four yogis—twisted into one rather painful pose.

The ddhrya-ligature (द्ध्र्य) of JanaSanskritSans

The ddhrya-ligature (द्ध्र्य) of JanaSanskritSans

One online source defines a ligature as two or more characters that have been designed into a harmonious ‘set.’ That made me think again that the same word is used in both music and typography. What links them, I think, is harmony, always the goal, no matter the medium.

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  1. Another interesting and informative post, Josna. 🙂

  2. Again, fascinating Josna – Thank you.

  3. I never knew & was a combination. Interesting.

    • Neither did I, Kristin, but it makes perfect sense. Some of the ampersands do look like stylized et’s, others, nothing like ’em.

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