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Majuscules and Uncials

Here’s a quick question for everyone. I’ve been reading up on text criticism again. I came to a part about uncials and majuscules. I assume these terms are synonomous, but how is it that we have two different terms here for the same thing? Or is there some nuance that does (or has), in fact, set them apart from each other? Any ideas?



7 Responses

  1. I think majuscule covers all capital letters and uncial refers to a certain style (rounded letters). I could be wrong though.

  2. Majescule sounds much more majestic. Uncial, on the other sound, seems stuffy and unnatractive.

    But seriously, I thought uncial was a specific sort of look, a cursivish look, while majescule just meant capital letters.

    • Majuscule does sound prettier, doesn’t it?

      Again, yall both might be right. Maybe I can get one of the guys from ETC to comment and fill us all in.

  3. Majuscule is the broader term and refers to the letters: “A formal bookhand of a fair size in which almost all of the letters are written between two imaginary lines.”* Uncial is a term used for a particular kind of Latin majuscule. The two terms used to be synonymous, but today their usually distinguished.

    I just had to read about this for class, so it’s fresh on my mind.

    *D. C. Parker, “The Greek Majuscule Manuscripts of the NT,” in “The Text of the NT in Contemporary Research,” ed. Ehrman & Holmes, p. 22.

    • Thanks for the help, Peter. I thought though (and I could be entirely wrong) that the terms were distinguished originally, but have become synonymous over time.

      In any case it is a minor point. Thanks for directing us to a book that deals with the subject.

  4. I emailed Tommy Wasserman of ETC fame to see if he could enlighten us. Sure enough he responded with an answer that should satisfy (much as Peter has already done).

    The distinction is probably complicated, and definitions change. I
    assume the terms may be used differently in different fields.

    Anyway, for one distinction, see p. 117 in Handbook of Greek and Latin
    Palaeography by Edward Maunde Thompson (available on Google Books). This
    refers to script.

    But then the terms are used in various ways.

    Looking up the book he recommends I learned that Majuscules describe all large letters, of which there are two subsections: Capitals and Uncials. Capitals are more angular and Uncials are curved more freely.

    Good to know.

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