I was trying to see how the Spanish word merced was translated into English in the 16th century, when I found this entry in a dictionary from 1591 by Richard Percyvall:


I understand that the second English word is worship, but that "r" is written in a different way from the r's in curtesie and pleasure. In a dictionary of Medieval English I found that worship was indeed a valid form for the word by then, but there were also other forms such as wurðescipe and wrþsipe, so I wonder if I am properly transliterating the word.

So, is that really an r in worship or is it another different character?

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    Middle English is not my field. A glance at the University of Michigan Press edition of the ‘Middle English Dictionary shows how the English of that time was still in flux, as I am sure you know. The start is the word ‘wyeth’ = ‘word’; adjective ‘worthen’. I shall not go on, interesting as the route leading to ‘worship’. But I leave that to someone who knows what s/he is talking about.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 7:53
  • There are very different faces used for the different languages....one might guess this dictionary was printed in the Low Countries with whatever type was at hand.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 8:38
  • 2
    OT: the Spanish formal you is usted as a contraction of vuestra merced; I was taught this could be translated as your grace
    – Henry
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 15:16

4 Answers 4


That peculiarly written letter is called the R rotunda

an R rotunda with the appearance of the number 2

The r rotunda (ꝛ), "rounded r", is a historical calligraphic variant of the minuscule (lowercase) letter Latin r used in full script-like typefaces, especially blackletters.

Unlike other letter variants such as "long s" which originally were orthographically distinctive, r rotunda has always been a calligraphic variant, used when the letter r followed a letter with a rounded stroke towards the right side, such as o, b, p, h (and d in typefaces where this letter has no vertical stroke, as in ∂, ð). In this way, it is comparable to numerous other special types used for ligatures or conjoined letters in early modern typesetting.


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    Apparently the rotunda (which, until today, I thought was only a kind of building) originates in Carolingian miniscule - Wikipedia.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 12:43
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    @Nigel "Rotunda" also means roundabout in Portuguese. Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 11:13
  • 3
    @PedroLobito "Rotonde" in Dutch Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 15:23
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    @NigelJ minuscule is so spelled because it is related to minus.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 6:35
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    Reading your post and the quote more closely, I see you wrote exactly what I said, you're just calling it by a different name. I've been a calligrapher for more years than I care to remember, but I've only ever heard it called a half-R. It occurs in many, many historical hands, not just gothic and Carolingian minuscule. I wasn't aware that it was ever used in printing, but given how early printers were trying to reproduce manuscripts, I suppose it makes sense.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 21:55

After reading more pages of the 1591 dictionary it was made clear that it was an r. It is also made clear by reading the text in this image:

Early modern text

In this image, taken from this page, you can see words such as more and or written with that type of r. As noted in the linked page:

A variant of the long S is in full effect here, but so are a number of other features that look unusual to modern readers: capital letters like 'T' or 'H' take elaborate forms, and lowercase 'd' and 'r' retain the look of Carolingian miniscule [sic] or Gothic blacklister, the handwritings of choice of medieval monks.

Now the next question would be why some words were written with the current r while others were written with the old-style r.

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    It's a calligraphic thing. Early printing tried to imitate manuscripts, hence ligatures, abbreviation marks, this half-R, and long S were reproduced faithfully in typography.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 21:50

I can only help with the way the word 'worship' was printed during the 1500s.

These are the various bible translations of Matthew 4:10 (Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God) from 1175 to 1568. I have highlighted the word 'worship' in its various forms but am unable to say which word it is in the Wessex Gospels of 1175.

The 'r' is included from 1382 up to 1568.

All from Textus Receptus Interlinear

Bishops Bible 1568 The sayth Iesus vnto hym: Auoyde Sathan. For it is written: Thou shalt worshyp the Lorde thy God, and hym only shalt thou serue.

Geneva Bible 1560 Then sayd Iesus vnto him, Auoyde Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him onely shalt thou serue.

The Great Bible 1539 Then sayeth Iesus vnto hym Auoyde Satan. For it is written: Thou shalt worshyp the Lorde thy God, and hym onely shalt thou serue.

Matthew's Bible 1537 Then sayd Iesus vnto him. Auoide sathan. For it is wrytten, thou shalt worshippe the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serue.

Coverdale Bible 1535 Then sayde Iesus vnto hym: Auoyde Sata. For it ys wrytte: thou shalt worshyp the LORDE thy God and hym onely shalt thou serue.

Tyndale Bible 1534 Then sayde Iesus vnto hym. Avoyd Satan. For it is writte thou shalt worshyp ye Lorde thy God and hym only shalt thou serve.

Wycliffe Bible 1382 Thanne Jhesus seide to hym, Goo, Sathanas; for it is writun, Thou schalt worschipe thi Lord God, and to hym aloone thou shalt serue.

Wessex Gospels 1175 Ða cwæð se hælend to him. Gang þu succa on-bæc. Soðlice hit is awriten. to drihtne þine gode þu þe ge-eadmestð (sic). & him ane þeowast.

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    It looks like the sentence is written like "to the Lord your God you will worship", so I bet that ge-eadmestð (with an apparent error noted by the sic) is the worship verb.
    – Charlie
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 11:37
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    @Charlie Just how much are you willing to bet ? Or can we find an expert ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 11:42
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    No, please, find an expert. I said that as a wild guess because Wiktionary says that drithen means the Lord. So to drihtne þine gode must be to the Lord your God. That leaves us with þu þe ge-eadmestð that must be something like you will worship.
    – Charlie
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 11:48
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    @Charlie I'm only teasing :) I think you may well be correct.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 11:50
  • Bosworth Toller gives humble, humilliate, worship, ... for ge-eádmédan
    – Henry
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 15:14

I quote below from OED sense 1, of the noun worship. Its etymology is from the word worth, with the ending -ship. Although it is not described as of Saxon or Germanic origin, it is clearly of Old English derivation since examples are provided from well before the Norman conquest.

Even at the time of King Alfred there was an r included, though in other respects the spelling is quite different.

By the time of the sixteenth century (the later part of which relates to your query) it is spelled in a variety of ways: wurship, worshype etc - but always with an r.

The modern spelling of worship would appear to be de rigueur from about 1600.

I. The quality or condition of having or deserving honour or high rank, and derived senses. a. The condition (in a person) of deserving, or being held in, high esteem or repute; honour, distinction, renown; good name. Now arch. or hist.See also of (good, great) worship at Phrases 5.

eOE King Ælfred tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (Otho) (2009) I. xxx. 531 Hi wunnon æfter weorðscipe on þisse worulde, and tiolodon goodes hlisan mid goodum weorcum.

OE West Saxon Gospels: John (Corpus Cambr.) iv. 44 Nan witega næfð nanne wurðscype [OE Lindisf. Gospels uorðscip; L. honorem] on hys agenum earde. c1275 (▸?a1200) Laȝamon Brut (Calig.) (1963) l. 1578 Worðschepe [c1300 Otho worsipe] haue þu þire wel-deda.

c1275 (▸?a1216) Owl & Nightingale (Calig.) (1935) 1344 An maide mai luue cheose Þat hirewurþschipe ne forleose.

c1330 (▸?a1300) Arthour & Merlin (Auch.) (1973) l. 8619 On him y told hir wele bitowe So ful y knawe him of worþschipe.

a1375 William of Palerne (1867) l. 551 Þat were semlyest to seye to saue my worchep.

▸ a1387 J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) (1865) I. 155 To wynne þe maystrie of wommen þou getest but litel worschippe.

c1430 Compleynt in J. Schick Lydgate's Temple of Glas (1891) App. 63 Of worshepe, honour & mesure She is the welle.

1432 in Paston Lett. (1904) II. 37 The said Erle, that all his dayes hath..desired..to kepe his trouthe and worship unblemysshed.

1485 Caxton tr. Paris & Vienne (1957) 8 Euery man dyd hys best to gete worshyp there.

1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 418/1 If he wyll say it of his worshyp [Fr. sur son honneur] I dare affyrme it.

1555 H. Braham Inst. Gentleman Prol. sig. *vjv Thus most men desyre the title of wurship, but fewe doo worke the dedes that vnto worship apperteigne.

1600 P. Holland tr. Livy Rom. Hist. xxxv. 900 As many as were of any havoir, worth and worship..fled to the Consull.

1639 J. Clarke Paroemiologia 99/1 Wealth makes worship.

1657 Fides Divina 72 How sottish therefore is the practice of all such as attribute any divine esteem, honour, or worship to any man.

a1810 C. B. Brown in W. Dunlap Mem. C. B. Brown (1815) I. 262 The honours of this new Saint, speedily eclipsed those of Arthur the king. The fame and worship of the ancient Arthur, had never travelled much further than the bounds of his own diocese.

1859 Tennyson Elaine in Idylls of King 216 It will be to your worship, as my knight,..To see that she be buried worshipfully.

1896 A. C. Swinburne Tale of Balen v. 186 Great worship shall ye win..And look that ye do knightly now, For great shall be your need, I trow.

1911 Encycl. Brit. XXVII. 105/2 Adventurous knights would travel far afield in time of peace to gain worship in conflicts that perilled life and limb.

1992 Rev. Eng. Stud. 43 316 The friendship of individual knights out pursuing adventure and ‘worship’.

a2005 R. R. Davies Lords & Lordship (2009) viii. 209 Lords had to prove their worship as much as retainers their service.

  • So I suppose then that worship is written in the text with just a different type of r, the same way as the s was written with a character that resembled more an f.
    – Charlie
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 8:13

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