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In the KJV translation of Matthew 5:18, it reads:

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

If a tittle sits atop an i or a j (ı or ȷ), then where do jots sit?

So what is a jot, anyway?


P.S. Here are the Unicode code points missing their tittles:

‭ i  0069       LATIN SMALL LETTER I
        * Turkish and Azerbaijani use 0130 for uppercase
        x (latin small letter dotless i - 0131)
        x (mathematical italic small dotless i - 1D6A4)
‭ j  006A       LATIN SMALL LETTER J
        x (latin small letter dotless j - 0237)
        x (mathematical italic small dotless j - 1D6A5)
‭ ı  0131       LATIN SMALL LETTER DOTLESS I
        * Turkish, Azerbaijani
        * uppercase is 0049
        x (latin small letter i - 0069)
‭ ȷ  0237       LATIN SMALL LETTER DOTLESS J
        x (mathematical italic small dotless j - 1D6A5)
‭ ɟ  025F       LATIN SMALL LETTER DOTLESS J WITH STROKE
        * voiced palatal stop
        * typographically a turned f, but better thought of as a form of j
        * "gy" in Hungarian orthography
        * also archaic phonetic for palatoalveolar affricate 02A4
‭ ʄ  0284       LATIN SMALL LETTER DOTLESS J WITH STROKE AND HOOK
        * implosive palatal stop
        * typographically based on 025F, not on 0283
‭ ᶡ  1DA1       MODIFIER LETTER SMALL DOTLESS J WITH STROKE
        # <super> 025F
‭ 𝚤  1D6A4      MATHEMATICAL ITALIC SMALL DOTLESS I
        = \imath
        x (latin small letter dotless i - 0131)
        x (mathematical italic small i - 1D456)
        # <font> 0131 latin small letter dotless i
‭ 𝚥  1D6A5      MATHEMATICAL ITALIC SMALL DOTLESS J
        = \jmath
        x (latin small letter dotless j - 0237)
        x (mathematical italic small j - 1D457)

    # <font> 0237 latin small letter dotless j
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2  
According to phrases.org, they're effectively synonyms today. Historically, a jot was the smallest letter (in English, i), whereas a tittle is a small element within calligraphic forms (often, the actual dot over the i). –  FumbleFingers Jan 2 '13 at 16:01

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Jot and tittle are both technological waste; scraps on the floor, left over from a few millennia of literacy technology. There isn't really a meaning distinction between them; both are nonce forms that refer to any small chunk of writing.

And both are used mostly as NPIs in negative contexts, especially in the open Verb + Minimal Direct Object Construction, e.g drink a drop, do a thing, give a damn/shit, lift a finger, bat an eye, eat a bite, ...

Jot comes from the Hebrew letter Yod (י), the smallest letter in the alphabet, representing /i/ and /y/ (to the extent they are different in any given language). When Greek adopted the Semitic alphabet, Yod got renamed Iota, and iota is also used in negative contexts:

  • He hasn't done one jot/bit/scintilla/iota of work.

Tittle is a variant of title, a word borrowed from Latin, where the sense of 'little bitty piece' of writing was fixed in Latin usage, according to the OED. It appears almost exclusively in the fixed phrase jot(s) and tittle(s).

In English, some have apparently reanalyzed jot as representing the dot on lowercase I, but that's just because it's the smallest chunk of our writing system. That dot on the lowercase I and J is just another example of a diacritic mark, like ö ő å í è ç š ū ñ.

Turkish uses both dotted i /i/ and undotted ı /ɨ/ to represent different (but related) vowels. İnterestingly, their respective capital letters are also different -- there's a dot on one (İ, i) but not the other (I, ı).

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Your assertion that tittle almost always appears in the context of jot and tittle reminds me of this question. –  J.R. Jan 2 '13 at 21:34
2  
In fact it's not uncommon to contrast the dot above i or j with a diacritic mark in that the former are "integral parts of the letters". This comes up in teaching aids for foreign languages which use the Latin alphabet with extra letters. The two dots above o in coöperate in the New Yorker spelling is a diacritic, ö in Swedish is not a diacritic because ö is a distinct letter from o in that language with its own place in the alphabet. Anyway I'm not sure how standard this explanation is and whether it means diacritic has two senses, but I've come across it repeatedly... –  hippietrail Jan 3 '13 at 8:03
    
Any technical term is bound to have exceptions and special meanings when it contacts reality. Like acronym or gearshift or dial a number, technical terms vary widely and unpredictably in context. Nothing unusual, really. It's the usage that's important; technical terms come and go. –  John Lawler Jan 4 '13 at 22:33

http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/jot

jot
noun
  a very small amount:

Origin:
late 15th century (as a noun): via Latin from Greek iōta, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet

The Greek letter iota doesn't have a tittle, so every jot and tittle refers to the ı part and the dot on top.

The answer to the question is "On the baseline".

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According to All-Knowing Wikipedia, jot derives from iota, and the KJV's jot and tittle is a translation of the Greek New Testament's ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία (Matthew 5:18), "one iota or one keraia," where keraia apparently refers to some sort of tiny hook-like diacritic or punctuation mark. Either way, the point is that iotas and keraias are tiny characters or marks.

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