“Just as flowing water follows gravity, letters follow language.” – David Sacks
I grew up in America, learned my ABC’s, and eventually became a writer without once wondering about the letters that make up our alphabet. I simply took them all for granted. That is until my sister gave me the book, Letter Perfect by David Sacks. In this book, Mr. Sacks gives the history of the alphabet as well as all of the 26 letters in it.
I haven’t read about each letter—yet. I immediately flipped the pages to the letter “J” because…well, I couldn’t spell my name without it. Did you know that J is the 10th letter in our alphabet but one of the last two to letters to be added to the Roman alphabet? Me neither. According to the book, “If a letter evolves new sounds, its alphabet has to catch up, probably by adding sounds to existing letters or (a step further) by inventing a brand-new letter or two.” That’s how the J came about.
A capital J appeared in Spanish print before 1600, changing the spelling but not the pronunciation of Iesus to Jesus. The J began to replace the I in French around 1570. Italy rejected J altogether using it only for foreign words already in print. In fact, only since the mid 19th century, thanks to Noah Webster, did J gain full acceptance into our alphabet. Thank you, Mr. Webster.
J took its shape as, “…a hook-tailed version of the letter I.” Alphabet scholar, David Diringer said the letter J is, “inferior in design to other letters, lacking the balance, boldness, and dignity of the classical Roman monumental letters.”
At first I was offended that the letter “J” should receive such harsh criticism. Then I realized that it’s not as if it’s possible for that sentiment to carry over from the first letter of my name and into my life…is it? I’m sure if my mother had heard this about the letter J, she would have named me something that began with a more dignified letter.
I can’t wait to move on to the letter “A.”
Have you ever wondered about the alphabetical history of the letters in your name? In the future, do you think our alphabet will gain more new sounds or letters?
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Tags: David Sacks, Letter Perfect, Webster, Diringer, alphabet,