I've been reading The Deer Slayer, and I can't help but notice that some words at the beginning of sentences display their first letter within square brackets. Here are some examples:

[W]hen five or six had discharged their bullets into the trees, he could not refrain from expressing his contempt at their want of hand and eye.

[T]hen he turned and showed the astonished Hurons the noble brow, fine person, and eagle eye of a young warrior, in the paint and panoply of a Delaware.

[T]hat pale-face is my friend. My heart was heavy when I missed him . . .

(The brackets and their contents are included in the book).

I considered that maybe this was the use of dialect, but it doesn't seem likely or sound natural. What is the reason for this?

  • 7
    Are you reading an actual book, or some electronic facsimile thereof? Sounds like a typical OCR failure to me: the start of a chapter is often rendered in a drop-capital, which a dumb scanner won't understand. You need a real book. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 16:42
  • @tchrist An actual book. These sentences aren't at the beginning of the chapters.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 16:55
  • 2
    What's the imprint (publisher/printer/dates etc.) for the book? If it's a printed-on-demand book the problem could be a consequence of mis-processed initials. (Initial is a hypernym for previously-mentioned drop-capital.) Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 18:43
  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about an error in a published book - not about English Language.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 23:07
  • 1
    @PieterGeerkens Except that we can't see the printed work in question - and all comments appear to be speculation - so we could also close it as 'opinion-based'.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 10:15

1 Answer 1


OP is certainly reading an abridged edition of The Deerslayer. A few moments searching on Amazon and Google Books turned up numerous abridged editions. One, at least, was abridged to make it suitable for younger readers. The editors of the OP’s edition were conscientious about showing what they changed; they bracketed letters which are capitalized in the abridgement but not in the original. This is a common way to indicate that capitalization was changed, for example when a word did not start a sentence in the original text but was changed to do so in the text before the reader.

This practice is mentioned in an answer to a different question. That answer quotes Chicago Manual of Style as recommending:

[T]he first word in a quoted passage must often be adjusted to conform to the surrounding text. In most types of works, this adjustment may be done silently... In some types of works, however, it may be obligatory to indicate the change by bracketing the initial quoted letter …

  • But OP says that the first letters are missing (but with brackets displayed).
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 10:17
  • @TrevorD OP's question shows exactly what is in the book: initial letters of some sentences are found in brackets. OP mistakenly says the first letters are missing because OP is only familiar with the use of brackets to insert something not present in the original.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 12:13
  • OK. Because Q. says "words at the beginning of sentences are missing their first letter ... The brackets are written in the book", I interpreted his quotations as meaning that only the brackets were shown in the book and he had 'inserted' the missing first letters within the brackets. Have edited the question according to your comment, and have retracted my close vote.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 13:44

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