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Recto and verso

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Title: Recto and verso  
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Subject: Page numbering, Codex, Aberdeen Bestiary, St Cuthbert Gospel, Book design
Collection: Book Design, Book Terminology, Drawing, Papyrus, Printing
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Recto and verso

Left-to-right language books (such as English)
Right-to-left language books (such as Japanese (vertical), Arabic, or Hebrew)

The terms recto and verso refer to the text written on the "front" and "back" sides of a leaf of paper in a bound item such as a codex, book, broadsheet, or pamphlet. The terms are shortened from Latin rectō foliō and versō foliō, translating to "on the right side of the page" and "on the turned side of the page", respectively. The page faces themselves are called folium rectum and folium versum in Latin, and the ablative recto, verso already imply that the text on the page (and not the physical page itself) are referred to.[1]

In codicology, each physical sheet (folium, abbreviated fol. or f.) of a manuscript is numbered and the sides are referred to as rectum and folium versum, abbreviated as r and v respectively. Editions of manuscripts will thus mark the position of text in the original manuscript in the form fol. 1r, sometimes with the r and v in superscript, as in 1r, or with a superscript o indicating the ablative recto, verso, as in 1ro.[2] This terminology has been standard since the beginnings of modern codicology in the 17th century.

Lyons (2011) argues that the term rectum "right, correct, proper" for the front side of the page derives from the use of papyrus in Late Antiquity, as a different grain ran across each side, and only one side was suitable to be written on, so that usually, papyrus would carry writing only on the "correct", smooth side (and only in the most exceptional of cases would there be writing on the "turned" side of the page).[3]

The use of the terms 'recto' and 'verso' are also used in the codicology of manuscripts written in right-to-left scripts, like Syriac, Arabic and Hebrew. However, as these scripts are written in the other direction to the scripts witnessed in European codices, the recto page is to the left while the verso is to the right. The reading order of each folio remains 'first recto, then verso' regardless of writing direction.

The terms are carried over into printing; recto-verso[4] is the norm for printed books but was an important advantage of the printing-press over the much older Asian woodblock printing method, which printed by rubbing from behind the page being printed, and so could only print on one side of a piece of paper. The distinction between recto and verso can be convenient in the annotation of scholarly books, particularly in bilingual edition translations.

The "recto" and "verso" terms can also be employed for the front and back of a one-sheet artwork, particularly in drawing. A recto-verso drawing is a sheet with drawings on both sides, for example in a sketchbook—although usually in these cases there is no obvious primary side. Some works are planned to exploit being on two sides of the same piece of paper, but usually the works are not intended to be considered together. Paper was relatively expensive in the past; indeed good drawing paper still is much more expensive than normal paper.

By book publishing convention, the first page of a book, and sometimes of each section and chapter of a book, is a recto page,[5] and hence all recto pages will have odd numbers and all verso pages will have even numbers.[6][7]

In some early printed books (e.g. João de Barros's Décadas da Ásia), it is the folia ("leaves") rather than the pages, that are numbered. Thus each folium carries a consecutive number on its recto side, while on the verso side there is no number.[8]

See also


  1. ^ e.g. quibus carminibus finitur totum primum folium versum (rectum vacat) voluminis "these poems are concluded on the turned first page (the front is empty) of the volume." Giovanni Battista Audiffredi, Catalogus hsitorico-criticus Romanorum editionum saeculi XV (1783), p. 225.
  2. ^ e.g. Roberts, Longinus on the Sublime: The Greek Text Edited After the Paris Manuscript (2011), 170; Wijngaards, The Ordained Women Deacons of the Church's First Millennium (2012), 232; etc. Tylus, Manuscrits français de la collection berlinoise disponibles à la Bibliothèque Jagellonne de Cracovie (XVIe-XIXe siècles) (2010)[2]
  3. ^ Martyn Lyons (2011). Books A Living History. Getty Publications. p. 21. ISBN 9781606060834.
  4. ^ Recto verso is an expression in French that means "two sides of a sheet or page". In Flanders the term recto verso is also used to indicate two-sided printing. Duplex printers are referred to as recto verso printers.
  5. ^ Drake, Paul (2007). "The Basic Elements and Order of a Book". You Ought to Write All That Down. Heritage Books. p. 1.  
  6. ^ Gilad, Suzanne (2007). Copyediting & Proofreading For Dummies. For Dummies. p. 209.  
  7. ^ Merriam–Webster, Inc. (1998). Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors. Merriam–Webster. p. 337.  
  8. ^ See e.g. a modern reprint of the 3rd Década (1563): Ásia de João de Barros: Dos feitos que os Portugueses fizeram no descobrimento e conquista dos mares e terras do Oriente. Tercera Década. Imprensa Nacional – Casa da Moeda, 1992.
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