What was the meaning of or in Isaac Newton's time?

I am reading "Newton and the Counterfeiter" by Thomas Levenson. It contains quotes from Newton's lesser known alchemical notes. An example sentence reads "Tis the minera of Gold even as or Magnet is ye mineral of this or Chalkybs".

I found other abbreviations present in the book (ye = the, yt = that, wch = which, etc) in the Wikitionary, but or is not there. Additional googling did not help, nor did asking a native Brit.

One colleague suggested "our" as an answer but "our" appears in the next sentence in non-abbreviated form and the Wiktionary entry for "our" does not mention or.

Quotes from Newton

EDIT: More examples. These are from a different book ("The Janus Faces of Genius)", but they too are Newton's alchemical notes.

Newton's notes 2

Newton's notes 3


1 Answer 1


I would also say it's "our". As for why that shows up in full a few words down, all I can say is that people are inconsistent. You can see that there's a singular "the" despite the many occurrences of ye too ("the blood of this Lyon").

Griffonage-Dot-Com analyzed some texts written "in what today’s Gregorian calendar would call 1656" which have some superscript R's:

The superscript r turns up again here, but in a couple new and interesting ways. In executors and administrators, it’s attached to a “short s.” And in or=our, it serves to abbreviate ur rather than just r. Granted, it could arguably abbreviate ur in the other cases too: after all, executors and administrators would typically have been written executours and administratours in earlier times, when the convention of using a superscript r in such circumstances first emerged. But when these words are written out in full elsewhere in this particular document, they don’t contain the u, so the writer doesn’t seem to have felt it was supposed to have one.

  • Perhaps there are exigent circumstances that explain his using the superscript abbreviation sometimes but not others, such as the amount of space remaining on the line or page?
    – TimR
    Jan 29 at 19:12
  • @TimR These are Newton's personal notes, so they were not polished like something meant for other people. That's not even the roughest part; lines were crossed out and stuff written in the margins. See this photograph to get a better idea.
    – Laurel
    Jan 29 at 19:51

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