Sometimes abbreviations are made by placing the terminal characters in superscript and underlining them, as in "1st," "Mc," and "No" (see examples below). What is this process called, and what is a general name for any one of these abbreviations (the abbreviation a whole, not the superscript characters alone) so made?

Example abbreviations (4)

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Oct 28 '17 at 23:12

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

  • Typographically, they are superscript and subscript as what they are traditionally known as superiors and inferiors respectively. The underlined is a US version of the UK No. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numero_sign) – mahmud koya Oct 15 '17 at 1:16
  • But these are not mere superscripts, but underlined superscripts that are paired with one (or more?) preceding characters. In your "No" example, the "N" is normal size. Read the question again. I am asking about the abbreviation as a whole, not just the superscript part. – Ana Nimbus Oct 15 '17 at 6:42
  • I was intrigued by this question and even more so when I could not find any howto example, neither in my Perrouseaux nor in my "Lexique des Règles typographiques". I guess the answer by @htmlcoderexe explains why we are not (yet) finding the technical name for this beast: it is hardly in use anymore. Abbreviations with superscript very much in use, esp. in French, but I no longer find the underline in modern documents in French. Please post here, if you find the answer yourself. – Martin Zaske Dec 28 '17 at 11:07

This seems to be known as an Ordinal Indicator.

Here's the blurb for convenience, some formatting lost from Wikipedia like the actual subscripts:

In written languages, an ordinal indicator is a character, or group of characters, following a numeral denoting that it is an ordinal number, rather than a cardinal number.

In English orthography, this corresponds to the suffixes -st, -nd, -rd, -th in written ordinals (represented either on the line 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or as superscript, st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th).

Also commonly encountered are the superscript (and often underlined) ordinal indicators º and ª, originally from Romance, but via the cultural influence of Italian by the 18th century widely used in the wider cultural sphere of Western Europe, as in 1º primo and 1ª prima "first, chief; prime quality".

The practice of underlined (or doubly underlined) superscripted abbreviations was common in 19th-century writing (not limited to ordinal indicators in particular, and also extant in the Numero sign №), and was also found in handwritten English until at least the late 19th century (e.g. "first" abbreviated 1st or 1st).

  • 1
    Re answer of @htmlcoderexe (first sentence). I don't think it would be proper to call "Mc," "No," or "St" ordinal indicators. Perhaps there is no single word that means "underlined superscripted abbreviation." – Ana Nimbus Oct 29 '17 at 0:54
  • @AnaNimbus as far as I have looked, there's no specific term for it. I guess that three word combination might be what you're looking for. – htmlcoderexe Oct 29 '17 at 0:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.