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Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Steve Cole ponders various thoughts that he discovered about the English alphabet.

1. J is the most recent addition, being only a few centuries old. It's really just a funny form of "I" but then so is "Y." Consider saying these words: jagged, iagged, yagged. They aren't that different, are they? They all basically start from eh-agged.

2. U and V and W were the same letter two thousand years ago, which is why Roman monuments are spelled funny (MARCVS) and US coins have TRVST on them. U was the vowel version, V was the consonant, and W was really just two "U" letters creating the sound we know as "W".

3. The ampersand has been considered a letter of the alphabet at various times in history, coming between Y and Z. It's a combination of E+T and "et" is Latin for "and." The reason we say "X, Y, and Z" is because it used to be "X, Y, &, Z."

4. Other than CH, there really isn't much use for C, and the Germans have discarded it altogether except for proper names and CH. For that matter, we could replace every "Q" with a K and nobody would notice. Remember when you were taught that QU is pronounced KW? Remember when I said that W was just a funny way of saying U?

5. Not even all of Europe uses the same version of the Latin alphabet that we use. The Spanish alphabet has four extra letters: CH, double R, double L, and two versions of N. The Swedish alphabet has three extras (two extra versions of A and one of O). Same thing for Norway, but one of the As is different from Swedish. The Russians have 33 letters, some of which Saint Cyrill created from his own artistic fancy to cover sounds he thought he heard. (The Russians had no written alphabet before he created one.)

6. English used to have a letter called "thorn" that was a combined "TH" thing. The word "ye" as in "Ye Old Game Shoppe" is actually "thorn+E" or "the." People a few centuries ago would look at that sign and pronounce it as "The Old Game Shoppe" and ask you what "ye" meant.

7. Actually, English used to have 36 or more letters, since it was (in the Middle Ages) a combination of the Runic alphabet and the Latin alphabet. A lot of Runic letters stuck around for centuries until they were gradually replaced with the equivalent Latin letter. Thorn (#6 above) was the last one to die.