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I'd like to ask about the sentence from A Case of Identity by Conan Doyle.

"a slight defect in the tail of the ‘r.’ "

Which part is the tail of "r"?
A: The lower part of the straight line of "r". B: The curving part.

My dictionary says the tail of something" means sometimes the lower part of the thing. But in "r" the curved part looks more like a tail to me. Does the expression mean different depending on who you ask? Or for native speakers, it's obvious? Can anyone tell me? Thanks.

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    Yes, and there are several ways to hand-write lower-case r (or it may have been upper-case, depending on the context). – John Lawler Oct 7 at 16:22
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    Here's an example of what I'd call "a slight defect" in the "tail / flourish" of a (capital) R. – FumbleFingers Oct 7 at 16:31
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    @Cascabel: Actually, the context is very specifically talking about a worn typewriter. But I wouldn't stake my life on it being the lower-case "r" as transcribed - more likely a capital letter, which does have a line that most of us would instantly identify as the "tail" even without a calligraphic "flourish". – FumbleFingers Oct 7 at 16:36
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    @FumbleFingers Then I guess we need to edit to provide that information...I was unaware of that context. – Cascabel Oct 7 at 16:40
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    I'd say the most common letter after the words tail of the letter would be Q (dunno if it's significant that queue is French for tail). And since that "tail" is a downward-sloping line in the bottom right of the overall space occupied by the letter, I'd naturally look for the nearest equivalent in the letter "r" - which obviously only normally occurs within a capital R. – FumbleFingers Oct 7 at 16:45
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In typography, the tail is the descending, often decorative stroke on the letter Q or the descending, often curved diagonal stroke on K or R. The descender on g, j, p, q, and y are also called tails.

Here's a quote from Eric Gill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Gill) in his Essay on Typography:

  • A typically moral and conscientious Englishman finds it exceedingly difficult to keep morals out of art talk; he finds himself inclined to think e.g. that R ought to have a bow more or less semi-circular and of a diameter about half the height of the stem, & a strongly outstanding tail; that an R with a very large bow and hardly any tail at all is wrong.

Pages 50 and 51 of his Essay illustrate his point with all kinds of faulty tails on Rs: https://monoskop.org/images/8/8d/Gill_Eric_An_Essay_on_Typography.pdf

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