Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


PERHAPS I GOT your attention today thanks to a pair of manicules bracketing the headline above. I hadn’t known their typographic name until reading about it in Keith Houston’s Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. Here are tidbits gleaned from his book and from my usual Internet sleuthing.

Video from

A Rich Heritage. The manicule, its pointing hand bringing attention to a textual passage, got its name from the Latin root manicula, “little hand.” The symbol became popular only after the codex, the book with pages, replaced the scroll. (Scrolls typically had insufficient margins.)

Image from Slate, September 30, 2013.

Writing in Slate, September 30, 2013, Houston noted, “The earliest attested manicules appeared in the Doomsday Book, the exhaustive survey of England carried out for William I in 1086.”

Early manicules, Wikipedia says, could be “very elaborate with shading and artful cuffs. Some were playful and elaborate, but others were as simple as ‘two squiggly strokes suggesting the barest sketch of a pointing hand,’ and thus quick to draw.”

A hand-drawn manicule in a fifteenth-century printed book. This and other images from Shady Characters.

Houston quotes Professor William H. Sherman of York University: “Between at least the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, [the manicule] may have been the most common symbol produced both for and by readers in the margins of manuscripts and printed books. Only two centuries later the manicule is almost nowhere to be seen: its fall has been precipitous indeed.”

The Manicule as Novelty. As a young man, I associated the manicule with traditional, and tacky, advertising: “☞Girls! Girls! Count Them—Twenty!☜” It wasn’t exactly the classiest of typographical applications.

On the other hand (no pun intended), the manicule gained United States Postal Service cred in being used as a “Return to Sender” graphic.

And then came the computer.

The Hovering Manicule. Today, an upward pointing hand is familiar to computer users, which means, of course, just about all of us.

A Microsoft Internet Explorer Mouse Pointer Logo. Source:

This symbol hovering about an item often indicates a clickable hyperlink. Turn your computer screen 90 degrees to mimic a medieval scribe’s manicule. (If your computer is hand-held, first turn on Portrait Orientation Lock.) ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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