Monday, January 05, 2009

The Old Has Gone, the New Has Come: The Umlaut Changes Name to Distigme

In the beginning of December, Philip Payne contacted me and said he had given a lot of thought and investigation into the best name to identify the pairs of dots in the margins of Codex Vaticanus B, known since the original discovery in 1995 as "Umlaut(s)." Those he had spoken to up to that point agreed that the expression "dot pair" (or "dot pairs" in the plural) would be more appropriate. I had some hesitation since Umlaut is now widely known and used, but, nevertheless, I drew his attention to David Parker's suggestion in his recent introduction (see last post) where he says, "The description of these as 'umlauts' is graphic but inappropriate. The use of points in critical sigla in antiquity is found in the διπλῆ περιεστιγμένη, the ὀβελὸς περιεστιγμένος and the ἀντίστιγμα περιεστιγμένον, but the textbooks seem to be silent on this precise phenomenon (e.g. Gardthausen, Palaeographie ... Perhaps δίστιγμα would be a more appropriate term" (p. 73).

This developed into a larger discussion with several scholars involved. The main choice at the beginning was between dot pair and distigma. Timothy Brown, in particular, presented some good arguments in favor of distigma, and the question looked settled, when Payne announced that he would adopt the term if no one opposed to it before Christmas Eve. He would then change the term in a forthcoming book as well as an article, both for which the deadline was approaching. He stated the key reasons for the change:

1. It will be readily recognized as a technical term with a specific
meaning, namely the presence of two (di) points (stigmata).
2. It has no other meaning that might distract from its use to
identify the locations of textual variants.
3. It is related to other expressions that described textual variants
in antiquity and is the most in keeping with the standard lexicon of
Greek paleography.
4. It is the expression most likely to gain universal acceptance.

A few days later on December 17, however, I happened to come across a reference to a list of text-critical signs included in Harleian MS 5693 (Illiad), which were said to have been used by Aristarkhos, and in this list there is in fact the "duo stigmai" (in the feminine plural) which accompany the antisigma. According to the list both are used in comination to mark a doublet in the text (the antisigma marks the first, and the duo stigmai the second occurence of the same words/thought). A specialist on Homeric textual criticism, Dr. Adrian Kelly was consulted, and it turned out that this list which was added to the MS in the 16th century may be erroneous on this point (the actual MS has to be checked to see if there is the double-dot sign in the Illiad text). According to Kelly, all other references to the 'stigme' as a text-critical sign in the Homeric tradition, in the scholia vetera et recentiora, all (other?) MSS, and in all modern treatments of Homeric textual criticism make it absolutely clear that Aristarkhos used the single 'stigme' to denote that for which the anonymous 16th cent. author uses 'duo stigmai'.

Regardless of whether the duo stigmai actually occurs in the Homeric context, perhaps in this MS alone, the lead at least made it clear that the stigme (feminine) is well established both in ancient and modern textual criticism, which is a decisive argument to prefer it to the neuter form (stigma/stigmata). After taking this prolonged scholarly consultation in account, Payne accepted the minor modification and concluded that the most appropriate expression for the double-dot sign in Vaticanus is the compound expression distigme (singular)/distigmai (plural). Below I cite, with his approval, his message on January 3 to the colleagues:

"Dear Colleagues,

Thank you all for your thoughtful input and patience in determining the ideal term for the horizontally-aligned, double-dot text critical symbols at mid character height in the margins of Codex Vaticanus B. I am sure we all wish to give special thanks to Dr. Kelly, T. A. E. Brown, T. Wasserman, and H. A. G. Houghton for their expert analyses.

I propose, based on all of your input, that we henceforth use distigmai (in the plural) or distigme (in the singular, with the final e pronounced as a long a since it represents eta) as the technical term for the double-dot text critical symbols in the margins of Codex Vaticanus B rather than 'umlaut'. I propose that in normal English use, distigmai and distigme not be italicized or put in quotes. I recommend that the final e of distigme not be given either a macron or a circumflex accent since there is a long tradition of representing its root as stigme.

The key reasons for the choice of distigmai and distigme are:

Since the convention in the NT of Codex Vaticanus B is for pairs of dots to identify the locations of textual variants, the name should specifically identify two dots. A search of LSJ indicates that the most common way to represent two in compound words in classical Greek is with the prefix di. The word conventionally used in Greek to represents dots of ink on writing materials is stigmai (stigme when referring to one specific occurrence). I recommend, therefore, the use of the specific term distigmai (distigme when referring to one specific occurrence) to identify the double dots in Codex Vaticanus B and any other manuscripts in which similar horizontally-aligned marginal notations identify the location of a textual variant.

Since this is a technical term with a specific meaning, it makes sense to use a technical term to represent it rather than a non-technical expression such as double dots or pairs of dots.

The feminine form stigmai (stigme for specific instances) is the original name for text critical dot symbols and the name normally used for these. Consequently, distigmai (distigme for specific instances) is more appropriate than the neuter distigmata (distigmata for specific instances) as the name for the double dot symbols in Codex Vaticanus B.

A single word title will facilitate future searches for this technical term, hence distigmai/distigme rather than duo stigmai. Having two separate forms also makes it clear whether one occurrence is in view or plural occurrences.

Distigmai and distigme have the added benefit that they do not convey any other meaning, which is the primary weakness of 'umlaut'. Dr. Kelly confirmed that duo stigmai as used by the sixteenth century critical sign list maker, repeated by Friedrich Gotthilf Osann, and included in the edition of Homer's Iliad by Dindorf, although it indicates a variant textual location, always occurs in pairs with antisigma and so is used differently and with a more specific meaning than the distigmai in Codex Vaticanus B.

Please encourage your colleagues henceforth to use the term distigmai (singular distigme) rather than umlaut. In the published extended form of the essay I read at the NT Textual Criticism Seminar at the SBL Annual Meeting in Boston, I will use distigmai and distigme:

Philip B. Payne and Paul Canart. 'Distigmai Matching the Original Ink of Codex Vaticanus: Do they Mark the Location of Textual Variants?' pages 191-213 in Patrick Andrist, ed., Le manuscrit B de la Bible (Vaticanus gr. 1209): Introduction au fac-similé, Actes du Colloque de Genève (11 juin 2001), contributions supplémentaires. Prahins, Switzerland: Éditions du Zèbre, 2009. Hopefully I will be able to be able to make this volume available at significant discount at the Linguist's Software booth at the SBL annual meeting in New Orleans.

Gratefully yours,

Postscript: On the Textual Criticism discussion list, James Snapp announced a few days ago that he had found that Codex Sangallensis 50 (Latin Gospels, 800's), has similar signs in the margin next to annotations, and in the text above the passage or word to which the annotation pertains. See e.g., Mark 2:1, page 174 of the MS at

It seems to me that the usage of the distigme is varying, but now we at least have a better term for it.


  1. What made my eyebrows raise was this comment by Payne:

    "Since the convention in the NT of Codex Vaticanus B is for pairs of dots to identify the locations of textual variants, the name should specifically identify two dots."

    I am not in a position to dispute the notion that in Vaticanus the distigmai indicate textual variants, but let's face it, in the end this is nothing more than an interpretation of these dots. There is a difference between what we see, the distigmai, and what we conclude these dots may mean. Even if Philip Payne is going to write a zillion articles on the topic, I will keep on shouting that the interpretation should never become synonymous with the observation.

  2. Dirk Jongkind:
    "There is a difference between what we see, the distigmai, and what we conclude these dots may mean."

    Well said, Dirk! Since I was not satisfied with Payne's answer to my question (and others' questions) at SBL, I think his interpretation of the distigmai in Codex Vaticanus is far from meriting such strong prose ("convention").

    Ulrich Schmid

  3. Dirk, I agree. We should remember, however, that the citation was from an e-mail, not a scholarly work, if that is partly an excuse. In the forthcoming article I understand that Payne will argue for this interpretation by appealing to some statistical analyses. He mentioned this in his SBL presentation. You probably remember more of those details.

  4. Well, if the distigmai are not text-critical markings, what are they and why do they appear next to such lines where textual problems exist in the tradition?

    Unless someone comes up with a better explanation, I think many of us are willing to follow Philip.

    Just a thought.

  5. Much ado about nothing....Why create a pseudo-Greek term that apparently was not used for the same purpose in antiquity?

    Even while granting that "umlaut" can be misleading, I would prefer replacement with a more descriptive term that moderns could more easily comprehend.

    "Horizontaldoppelpunkt" immediately springs to mind....

  6. Without necessary agreeing to Payne's interpretation of the symbol, I do prefer the newer term.

  7. Maurice, weren't you supervising someone who was looking into these "Horizontaldoppelpunkte"? I am curious how that project is proceeding if it is still proceeding.

  8. Since the term "umlaut" was already taken (for actual umlauts/dieresis-marks), I suppose it was inevitable that some other term would be proposed. The new terminology seems a tad jargonish though. But doesn't this seem easier:

    bikle = two dots placed horizontally side-by-side.

    trikle = three dots arranged like three points of a triangle.

    freckle = more than three dots arranged together.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  9. Tommy: Weren't you supervising someone who was looking into these "Horizontaldoppelpunkte"? I am curious how that project is proceeding if it is still proceeding.

    I hope people realized my "Horizontaldoppelpunkt" was written with tongue firmly in cheek in order to make the point (i.e., why complicate by creating an even more obscure term?). I actually like Snapp's "bikle" far better than Payne's "distigme", but I'm not sure whether it is easier to ride than a "trikle".

    Mr Gravely's dissertation (in which umlauts are called umlauts and men are called men) should be complete by this May, D. V.

  10. Thanks Maurice. Yes, I knew your tongue was firmly there in your cheek. And I of course look forward to reading Gravely's work.

  11. A certain text-critical wag has now suggested to me that the double-dots be named after their discoverer: call them "Paynes", or, more desriptively, "Paynes in the side".

    This would not, however, solve the problem of the double-dot presence at the end of John, but I'm sure that can be accommodated as well.