The letters of the alphabet

Latin Aa and Cyrillic Аа come from Greek Αα (alpha). Like Hebrew א, Arabic ﺍ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Aleph), meaning ox. (NB that א, and are consonants.)
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning the head of an ox.

Latin Bb and Cyrillic Бб and Вв come from Greek Ββ (beta). Like Hebrew ב, Arabic ﺏ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Beth), meaning house.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning house.

Latin Cc and Gg and Cyrillic Гг come from Greek Γγ (gamma). Like Hebrew ג, Arabic ﺝ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Gimel), meaning throwing stick (some think camel but I am not convinced).
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning throwing stick.

Latin Dd and Cyrillic Дд come from Greek Δδ (delta). Like Hebrew ד, Arabic د and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Daleth), meaning door.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning door.

Latin Ee and Cyrillic Ее, Єє, Ээ come from Greek Εε (epsilon). Like Hebrew ה, Arabic ه and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (He), meaning window (NB that all the Semitic letters are consonants).
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning happy (or a happy person).

Latin Ff comes from archaic Greek Ϝϝ (digamma). Like Hebrew ו, Arabic ﻭ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Waw), meaning hook – also the ancestor of Uu, Vv and Ww.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning mace.

Latin Hh and Cyrillic Ии come from Greek Ηη (eta), even though it is a consonant and the other two are vowels. Like Hebrew ח, Arabic ح and Ge'ez , , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Heth), meaning wall, courtyard.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning enclosure, which also had the right pronunciation.

Latin Ii and Jj and Cyrillic Іі and Јј come from Greek Ιι (iota). Like Hebrew י, Arabic ي and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Yodh), meaning hand. (NB that all the Semitic letters are consonants, pronounced like English y or German j.)
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning arm.

Latin Kk and Cyrillic Кк come from Greek Κκ (kappa). Like Hebrew כך, Arabic ﻙ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Kaph), meaning palm of a hand.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning hand.

Latin Ll and Cyrillic Лл come from Greek Λλ (lambda). Like Hebrew ל, Arabic ﻝ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Lamedh), meaning goad.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning whip.

Latin Mm and Cyrillic Мм come from Greek Μμ (mu). Like Hebrew מם, Arabic ﻡ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Mem), meaning water.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning ripple of water.

Latin Nn and Cyrillic Нн come from Greek Νν (nu). Like Hebrew נן, Arabic ﻥ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Nun), meaning snake.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning snake.

Latin Oo and Cyrillic Оо come from Greek Οο (omicron). Like Hebrew ע, Arabic ع and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Ayin), meaning eye (NB that all the Semitic letters are consonants.)
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning eye.

Latin Pp and Cyrillic Пп come from Greek Ππ (pi). Like Hebrew פף, Arabic ف and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Pe), meaning mouth, well.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning mouth (actually pronounced 'r').

Latin Qq and the archaic Cyrillic Ҁҁ and Фф come from the archaic Greek Ϙϙ (qoppa). Like Hebrew ק, Arabic ﻕ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Qoph), meaning the eye of a needle or possibly the nape.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning monkey.

Latin Rr and Cyrillic Рр come from Greek Ρρ (rho). Like Hebrew ר, Arabic ﺭ and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Res), meaning head.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning head.

Latin Ss and Cyrillic Сс come from Greek Σσς (sigma). Like Hebrew ש (which is the root of Cyrillic Шш), Arabic س and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Shin), meaning tooth.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning bow, but frankly it looks much more likely to me to have been , a pond with lotus flowers, which looks similar and has the right pronunciation.

Latin Tt and Cyrillic Тт come from Greek Ττ (tau). Like Hebrew ת, Arabic ت, ث and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Taw), meaning mark.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , meaning mark.

Latin Uu, Vv, Ww and Yy, and Cyrillic Уу, come from Greek Υυ (upsilon). The root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Waw), discussed above under Ff.

Latin Xx and Cyrillic Хх come from Greek Χχ (chi) even though the Latin letter is pronounced differently from the other two. Like Hebrew ו, Arabic س and Ge'ez ሰ, the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Samekh), meaning tentpeg.
The root is thought to be the Egyptian hieroglyph , a mystical symbol based on a column of reeds. Frankly I'm not hugely convinced.

Latin Zz and Cyrillic Зз come from Greek Ζζ (zeta). Like Hebrew ז, Arabic ز and Ge'ez , the root is the Phoenician letter ‎ (Zayin), meaning weapon.
It's not clear which hieroglyph it came from. Some say , meaning two. I'd have thought , meaning dagger, more likely.

Several letters which were used by the Anglo-Saxons have since been dropped from the English version of the Latin alphabet. This post in in English, so I will look at them too.

The origin of Ææ (æsh or ash) is pretty obvious, and likewise Ðð (eth or edh).

The archaic Ȝȝ (yogh), pronounced in various ways, is derived from Gg. (Sometimes it has survived as a Zz, which is why "Menzies" is pronounced as it is.)

But the letters Þþ (thorn), pronounced th, and Ƿƿ (wyn), pronounced w, were not derived from Greek or Phoenician at all, but from the ancient Germanic runes ᚦ (thurisaz) and ᚹ (wunjo).

Personally, I þink we should revive þ at least. Þere's a lot of scope for it. It is still used in þe Icelandic language.

1 thought on “The letters of the alphabet

  1. “There is a simple way to make it essentially impossible to game the nominations: two rounds of nominations.”

    Something like that would be a giant improvement. The group at TNH made a big attempt toward that, and then some people who appeared to be important at the Worldcon business meeting showed up and said they were utterly opposed to the idea. They were so opposed that the whole thing got dropped and the proposal was abandoned.

    I’m not completely sure I understand the reasoning, but here’s how I reconstruct it:

    Slates are bad. What we usually do is not bad. The difference is that people who join slates collude with each other, they agree together about what to nominate. Therefore it’s wrong for nominators to make any agreements. They should each make their choices completely independently, with no outside forces that influence them. We will get a lot of chaotic variation, nothing will get a lot of nominations, random things can happen, and that’s how we like it! Other voting gets campaigning and advertising, bandwagon effects, politics. The Hugos are pure and good, because good fans do nothing to reach a consensus.

    There was a proposal to have the voting website show, on a continuing basis, what has been nominated and how many votes each nominee has. That was utterly rejected — it influences voters.

    A runoff was rejected.

    There was a proposal to have something less than a runoff. Maybe halfway through the nominations, publish a list of the top 15 without listing their votes. This was utterly rejected — if voters see which is popular that will influence their vote.

    There was a proposal to have the voting website provide a list of what has been nominated already. Then if you see that your choice has already been nominated you can nominate *the same thing* instead of typing in your own choice and requiring the administrators to decide they’re the same. This was scornfully rejected — if voters see what has already been nominated, that influences their choice.

    Looking back, I wish a runoff proposal had been made. The worst that could happen is it would be rejected. And it would help with slates more than any voting system can help after-the-fact of the chaotic voting.

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