Glossary of manuscript terms

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For related articles, consult Manuscripts (disambiguation).

The basis for this article was first composed as part of the Folger Institute's 2005 Summer Institute A Manuscript Miscellany, directed by Steven W. May. It has since been expanded and adapted.

Autograph
A manuscript in an author's hand that includes the author's signature
Bifolium
A large sheet of paper folded in half and resulting in a four-page "booklet."
Catchword
A word at the bottom of a page in a manuscript or print book indicating the first word of the following page. In manuscripts produced by multiple professional scribes, catchwords were provided at the ends of quires to assure that the finished product would be assembled in the correct order. Catchwords that appear in the manuscripts of amateur scribes may serve a similar function, but may also be a decorative element introduced to give the manuscript a more professional look. (See Bond)
Colophon
A statement providing the details of publication, sometimes found at the end of a book, but more often at the bottom of a printed book's title page.
Commonplace book
Sometimes used as a catch-all cataloguing term for manuscript miscellanies. Commonplaces (quotations or excerpts from reading, including aphorisms, precepts, maxims, anecdotes and other sententiae) were entered under subject headings in MS volumes produced by grammar school students. Commonplace books were given subject headings, usually in alphabetical order, before entries were transcribed under them. Many legal commonplace books survive from the early modern era, while literary collections of the kind are far less common.
Copy book
A book comprising texts for a student to imitate. A copy book might be handwritten or printed. These books were often used to teach students calligraphy, arithmetic, and languages. Moral distiches and mnemonic devices were frequently used as copy texts so that students could learn moral virtues in tandem with their lessons.
Copy text
For editors, a text identified as the most authoritative source.
Coterie
An exclusive literary or social circle.
Exemplar
The immediate model for a manuscript transcription.
Exercise book
A blank book in which a student copied out exercises. (See Smith)
Fair copy
A manuscript showing signs of polish and finish, unlike foul papers, or drafts.
Folio
From the Latin word for leaf, a paper size designating one-half of a standard-size sheet of paper. Achieved by folding the sheet in half once. The front and back of a folio are referred to as recto and verso. Also the size of the book or manuscript comprising such sheets, sometimes abbreviated 2o. Shakespeare's plays were first collected in the famous First Folio of 1623.
Foliation
numbering by leaf (as opposed to pages) typically on the recto of each leaf. In this numbering system, "folio" and "folios" (or "folia") are often abbreviated as f. / ff. or fol. / fols.
Hand
The style in which a particular alphabet is written; or, in a broader sense, any one standard style of writing (such as 'italic' or 'secretary'), or one individual's execution of that style. A single person could often have two or more 'hands' if s/he has learned multiple standard styles.
Holograph
A manuscript in its author's handwriting.
Italic
A style of handwriting created in Italy and associated with the humanists. The italic hand was first adapted to print publication in a 1501 edition of Virgil issued by the Aldine Press. Today, the italic hand is often used for emphasis in print and is most readily recognized by its pronounced slope to the right.
Leaf
A single sheet of paper or vellum, each side of which constitutes a page.
Letterbook
A bound collection of letters sent, received, or circulated that have been copied by the owner or a professional scribe.
Manicule
Also called an index or printer's fist, the pointed finger found in the margins of books. May be hand-drawn or printed.
Miscellany
A bound manuscript containing disparate elements, or in literary practice, disparate genres, such as poems, short stories, or plays, often collected or written over time. A genre that goes back to ancient Greek anthologies, this term gained popularity in the seventeenth century.
Monogram
A design composed of one or more letters (usually initials), typically those of a name, used as an identifying mark.
Octavo
A paper size (or the resulting book) designating one-eighth of the standard-sized sheet (called a broadside). This size was achieved by three successive, equal foldings of the sheet.
Page
A single side of a leaf, and part of a system of enumerating the leaves in a book.
Paleography
The study of old forms of handwriting.
Paratext
A term coined by critic Gérard Genette to describe the portions of a text conceptualized as extrinsic to the text proper. Paratexts include prefatory elements (prefaces, acknowledgments, introductions, title pages), supplementary or concluding elements (footnotes or endnotes, conclusions, appendices), and elements which facilitate the use of the text (tables of contents, indices, page numbers, chapter or section headings, marginal notes, running titles) or increase its aesthetic appeal (borders, illustrations, decorative or historiated letters).
Parchment
The generic term for stretched animal skin prepared to receive writing. Some disciplines prefer to use this term only for goat and sheep skin, reserving "vellum" for calfskin. The term derives from Pergamon, an early production center.
Provenance
A record of the origin and history of ownership of a specific copy of a manuscript.
Quarto
A paper size (or the resulting book) designating one-fourth of the large, standard-sized sheet. This size was achieved by two successive, equal foldings of a sheet.
Quire
For medieval manuscripts, a set of four sheets of parchment or paper folded in half as a single unit, so as to form eight leaves; by extrapolation, any collection or gathering of leaves, one within the other, in a manuscript or printed book.
Receipt book
A collection of cookery or medicinal recipes, or any book that details ingredients, formulas, remedies, prescriptions, and processes concerned with the production of foods, medicines, and other household items.
Recto
The front or obverse of a page, leaf, or sheet of paper, vellum, or other surface designed for writing.
Scribe
A writer, whether professional or amateur, of a text in manuscript. The scribe may or may not be the author or composer of the text in question; often used to describe a writer who prepares texts as an amanuensis for others or who produces copies of texts for further distribution.
Scribal publication
A term coined by Harold Love to describe the distribution of a piece of writing through manual copying and personal networks rather than through printing for public sale.
Scriptorium
A workshop or other appropriately equipped space where multiple scribes or copyists (usually professionals) produced manuscripts in quantity, often under supervision.
Secretary
A person whose profession it is to produce handwritten documents, possibly within a family but also designating some of the highest functionaries of the state.
Secretary hand
A style of handwriting, developed from a specialized court hand, and in widespread use in sixteenth and seventeenth century England.
Sententiae
The plural of a Latin term meaning 'sentences' and generally designating maxims, proverbs or aphorisms (see "Commonplace Book" above).
Sheet
See "leaf."
Stemma
(pl. stemmata) The genealogy of multiple transcriptions of a work.
Transcription
A manuscript copy of a given work.
Vellum
The skin of a young calf, specially treated for use as a writing surface, or to form the cover of a book or manuscript. By the early modern period, paper had become common, but vellum remained an expensive alternative for special uses.
Verso
The back or reverse of a leaf or sheet of paper, vellum, or other surface designed for writing.