Richard Rufus of Cornwall

On Quicksilver, Sulfur, and the Elements

Paleography Exercise: v/u

It's hard enough trying to read someone else's handwriting. It's even harder trying to read someone else's handwriting in Latin. Add to the mix some really interesting letter forms, and sometimes a manuscript can seem totally illegible!

Luckily, once you learn which letters are which, reading words becomes much easier. In this exercise, we will learn how to recognize an interesting formation of v/u. It is important to remember at the outset that v/u are the same letter of the alphabet. The difference in shape corresponds to its place in the word, not to its phonetic significance.

Here are two examples of v/u from the same word:

The first example is used to begin the word. The second example is used later in the word. One way to learn how to "read a new hand" is to be able to recognize where words begin and end. This can be really helpful if the words are written closely together.

Here is the word where both samples of v/u appear:


Easy question: which of these words starts with v/u?

Harder question: which of these words has v/u somewhere else than at the beginning?

Pick out the word in the sentence that starts with v/u:

Word #1   

Word #2   

Word #3   

Word #4   

Challenge: Read the word in the sentence above that starts with v/u.


Prague, Metropolitan Chapter Library, MS 80, used with permission.