Mind-blowing Alphabet Facts

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Imagine a language without words, and words without letters.

In a recent post, we explored the alphabet. And in another post, I explored the question of whether animals communicate through language. Check out What is Language? to learn what the research says. 

Without words, we couldn’t have a language. Without letters, we wouldn’t have words. So let’s explore some alphabet facts alphabetically. 

“A” is an excellent starting place.  

A, the first letter of the alphabet, is derived from the first two words of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta. 

Amazing, right? 

Well, almost, which is apparently the longest word that has all the letters in alphabetical order. Also, the end of your shoelace is an “aglet.” 

And thus ends our arbitrary list of word facts related to “A.” 

“B” is better, right?

The Phonecians called “b” beth.  

If you need to keep someone occupied, ask them to spell out numbers, starting with one. They can stop once they use a “b,” which is billion, the first number that contains a “b.” 

B doesn’t get the same respect as A. We have a Plan B, watch a B-movie, and avoid Grade B meats.  

A beta-test of a model is designed to discover an object’s flaws. 

Even though B is the second letter, it is the first consonant. So take that, A. 

The first ten SAT words listed in vocabulary.com’s list of SAT words have an “a” as the second letter: baffle, baleful, balk, ballad, ban, banal, bane, banish, banter, and barbaric. How’s that for role reversal? 

So ends this bodacious set of facts about “B.” 

“C”—the Letter Franklin Wanted to See Disappear

Spelling in English is notoriously difficult, and several leading minds of the 18th century wanted to reform spelling, including Noah Webster and Benjamin Franklin.  Along with C, J, Q, W, X, and Y were also on Franklin’s hit list. 

Franklin and others wanted to eliminate the letter because of its phonetic confusion. For example, every “c” in the word “Pacific Ocean” has a different sound. 

If we used Franklin’s phonetic alphabet, our writing would look like this:  

This is a letter that shows what would happen if Franklin eliminate the letter c

Letter to Franklin using his phonetic alphabet. Public Domain 

C is the 13th most commonly used letter. So if you believe 13 is an unlucky number, avoid words that use it. 

C and G both come from a common letter most likely adapted from the word gimel, based on the Egyptian hieroglyph for a camel

The letter C joins B in not occurring before billion in the English spelling of numbers. 

Writing that includes upper and lower case letters is a form of writing called Carolingian minuscule, named after Emperor Charlemagne.

WordsarenowseparatedbecauseoftheCarlingianminuscule. And consistent punctuation is another characteristic of Carolingian Minuscule.  

“D”—a Depressing Letter

We continue our tour through alphabet facts with the depressing D. Death, delete, destroy, disaster, disease, disappoint, disaster—the letter is a figurative Doorway to Death.  

The letter d was derived from a Proto-Semitic symbol for a door, or dalet

Delta, the Greek symbol for D, gets around. The upper case delta (Δ) represents a change in math. In law, it identifies the defendant.  In molecular chemistry, the lower case Delta (δ) is used to signify a partial change, and in engineering mechanics, it denotes deflection. 

In military history, D-Day stands for the Day of an Invasion. This usage goes back to World War I. However, according to some military historians, D-Day refers to the day of an amphibious invasion. 

“E” is Everywhere

E is the most commonly used letter, appearing in over 10% of all English words. It is so common that the ultimate challenge for writers is avoiding it completely. Anagrams, Palindromes, and acrostics are other examples of constrained writing, as in the following sentence. 

Gadsby, by an author from the U.S., Mr. Wright, is a 50,000 word novel book of fiction that avoids that symbol for fifty thousand words. 

Ironically, his name has 19 letters, and two are e,” which is 10.5%. The letter is in the most common English word (time), the most common verb (be), and the pronouns he, she, me, we, and they. That helps to explain why it is so commonly seen. 

There you have it—alphabet and word facts for the first five letters. If you enjoyed these, there’s 21 more letters to explore. 

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