Posted by: Jack Henry | December 14, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Title, tilde, and tittle

When I read Grammar Girl’s article about Caesar and that famous phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) I definitely did not expect to end up at today’s destination: title, tilde, and tittle. That’s the fun thing about English and traveling—you never know where exploration will lead you!

The article mentioned that Caesar annihilated King Pharnaces and his army in four hours. The words “Veni, vidi, vici” were inscribed on a large placard carried at the front of Caesar’s victory parade when he returned to Rome. This placard was called a titulus. And here is where my journey began.

I started with titulus and looked for a definition. In Wikipedia, I found this:


The Latin word for "title", "label" or "inscription" (plural tituli)

A term used for the labels or captions naming figures or subjects in art, which were commonly added in classical and medieval art, and remain conventional in Eastern Orthodox icons. In particular the term describes the conventional inscriptions on stone that listed the honors of an individual or that identified boundaries in the Roman Empire. A titulus pictus is a merchant’s mark or other commercial inscription.

A sign bearing the condemned person’s name and crime, attached to the top of the cross. [KC – Probably the most famous of these was the
Titulus Crucis, the piece of wood that read
Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum
("Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews"), shortened to INRI.]

Here is an example of a titulus:

The next three words are all derived from the word titulus. These are their etymologies from the Online Etymology dictionary. They might be a little tough to read, but I think they give you a good history of where the words came from and how they changed here and there over the years. (I shortened them a little so as not to scare you away.)

title (n.)

c. 1300, "inscription, heading," from Old French title "title or chapter of a book; position; legal permit", and in part from Old English titul, both from Latin titulus "inscription, label, ticket, placard, heading; honorable appellation, title of honor," of unknown origin.

tilde (n.)

1864, from Spanish, metathesis of Catalan title, from vernacular form of Medieval Latin titulus "stroke over an abridged word to indicate missing letters," a specialized sense of Latin titulus, literally "inscription, heading". The mark itself represents an -n- and was used in Medieval Latin manuscripts in an abridged word over a preceding letter to indicate a missing -n- and save space.

tittle (n.)

"Small stroke or point in writing," late 14c., translating Latin apex in Late Latin sense of "accent mark over a vowel," which itself translates Greek keraia (literally "a little horn"), used by the Greek grammarians of the accents and diacritical points, in this case a Biblical translation of Hebrew qots, literally "thorn, prick," used of the little lines and projections by which the Hebrew letters of similar form differ from one another.

(This is borrowed) …from a specialized sense of Latin titulus, which was used in Medieval Latin (and in Middle English and Old French) to indicate "a stroke over an abridged word to indicate letters missing" (and compare Provençal titule "the dot over -i-").

Compare tilde, which is the Spanish form of the same word.

And there’s where I ended up with these words. I hope you find the etymological tale they told as interesting as I did!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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