26 Fascinating Facts About Every Letter in the English Alphabet
Bet you didn’t know THIS when you learned your ABCs.
A is for…Fedor Selivanov/Shutterstock
Believe it or not, the capital A hasn’t always looked the way it does now. Ancient Egyptians wrote the letter upside down, creating a symbol that resembled a steer with horns. Learn the surprising history behind the order of the English alphabet.
B is for…mongione/Shutterstock
Grab a paper and pen, and start writing down every number as a word. Do you notice one missing? If you kept going, you wouldn’t use a single letter B until you reached one billion. You can also spell every number up to 1,000 without another common letter.
C is for…Diego Schtutman/Shutterstock
Benjamin Franklin reportedly wanted to banish C from the alphabet—along with J, Q, W, and X—and replace them with six letters he invented himself. Doing so, Franklin claimed, would simplify the English language. Word nerds will appreciate these grammar jokes.
D is for…camilla$$/Shutterstock
Contrary to popular belief, the letter D in D-day does not stand for “doom” or “disaster”—it simply stands for “day.” The Army names any important military operation or invasion with this term, using it as a placeholder for a certain calendar date. Check out more history lessons your teacher lied to you about.
E is for…Sky Motion/Shutterstock
The letter E is the most common letter in the English language. It appears in 11 percent of all words, according to an analysis of 240,000 entries in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Did you know there used to be six more letters in our alphabet?
F is for…Luca Pape/Shutterstock
Anyone educated in today’s school system knows that grades lower than 75 receive an F. However, that grade used to be represented by the letter E. When administrators at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts redesigned the grading system in 1898, professors worried that students would think the grade meant “excellent.”According to Slate, F more obviously stands for “failure” or “failed.”
G is for…Arlo Magicman/Shutterstock
Both G and C were originally represented by the Phoenician symbol for gimel, which meant “camel.” It was the Romans who finally separated the two letters, letting C keep its shape and adding a bar at the bottom for the letter G.
H is for…Ulf Wittrock/Shutterstock
H might be the most hated letter in Britain, according to Michael Rosen, author of Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story. For almost two thousand years, Brits have pronounced H two ways: ‘aitch’ and ‘haitch.’ Accents that dropped the H from words were once considered lower class, Rosen writes. What’s more, different pronunciations of the letter also distinguished the Catholics from the Protestants in Northern Ireland.
I is for…nimon/Shutterstock
Funny enough, the dot over the letters “i” and “j” actually has a name. It is called a tittle, or superscript dot.
J is for…Juriaan Wossink/Shutterstock
J is the only letter in the alphabet that does not appear on the periodic table. Invented in 1524 by an Italian, J was also the last letter to be added to the alphabet.
K is for…Happy Stock Photo/Shutterstock
No matter how high you count in the English language, you will never find a number that uses the letter K. Same goes for the letters J and Z. Just for proof, this is the highest number anyone has ever counted to.
L is for…antpkr/Shutterstock
The Super Bowl has traditionally used Roman numerals to denote the number of the Big Game. But for its 50th anniversary, it chose not to use the Roman numeral for 50, which is L. The slogan “Super Bowl L” put a bad taste in the NFL’s mouth, Rolling Stone reports. Why? L tends to stand for a “loss” in football.
M is for…Makistock/Shutterstock
You can’t say the letter M without your lips touching. Go ahead and try it! Then, give the hardest words to pronounce in the English language a shot.
N is for…Tamerlan Aliyev/Shutterstock
The letter N was originally a pictorial representation of a fish, or one wave that resembled a camel hump.
O is for…Itsaret Sutthisiri/Shutterstock
Only four letters (A, E, O, L) are doubled at the beginning of a word (aardvark, eel, ooze, llama, etc.), and more words start with double O than any others in the English language. But here’s why no words have the same letter three times in a row.
P is for…futureGalore/Shutterstock
The letter P originally came from the Phoenician letter “rosh,” or R, which looked like a backward P. The word rosh meant “head”—hence the symbol’s resemblance to a neck and head.
Q is for…Ben Harding/Shutterstock
One out of every 510 letters in English words is a Q, making it the least common letter in the English alphabet, according to an Oxford English Dictionary analysis. It is also the only letter not used in any U.S. state name.
R is for…Jiri Hera/Shutterstock
The letter R is sometimes referred to as the “littera canina,” or canine letter. In Latin, the way speakers trilled the R sounded like a growling dog. William Shakespeare even gave the letter a shout-out in his play Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet’s nurse calls the letter R “the dog’s name” in Act 2, scene 4.
S is for…siro46/Shutterstock
The English alphabet briefly included a typographical letter called a “long s.” Used from the late Renaissance to the early 1800s, it resembled the letter ‘f’ but was pronounced simply as ‘s.’ Eventually, the letter fell out of use; John Bell, who pioneered a new modern typeface, is often blamed for the disappearance of the long s.
T is for…Maridav/Shutterstock
The term “T-shirt” got its name for the ‘T’ shape of the body and sleeves. It is a relatively new word, too. According to TodayIFoundOut, F. Scott Fitzgerald was reportedly the first person to print the term “T-shirt” in 1920, when the main character in his novel This Side of Paradise brings a T-shirt with him to college.
U is for…adike/Shutterstock
Up until 1629, the letters U and V were used interchangeably; the shape V stood for both the vowel U and the consonant V. It wasn’t until an Italian printer named Lazare Zetzner started using the letter U in his print shop that the two letters became distinct.
V is for…WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock
V is the only letter in the English language that is never silent, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Think about it: Even unusual letters like Z and J are silent in words we have borrowed from foreign languages, such as marijuana (originally a Spanish word) and laissez-faire (French).
W is for…haveseen/Shutterstock
If you have ever wondered why we call it a “double-u” instead of “double-v,” you’re not alone. However, the explanation is surprisingly simple. Because the Latin alphabet did not have a letter to represent the sound /w/ in Old English, 7th-century scribes just wrote it as ‘uu.’ The double-u symbol eventually meshed together to form the letter W. To sound even smarter, follow these little grammar rules every day.
X is for…Triff/Shutterstock
From “X marks the spot” to “solve for x,” we often use the letter ‘x’ to represent the unknown. But where did this trend come from? According to Gizmodo, French mathematician René Descartes used the last three letters of the alphabet to represent unknown quantities in his book La Géométrie, which invented analytic geometry. By contrast, he chose a, b, and c to represent the known.
Y is for…UVgreen/Shutterstock
The Oxford English Dictionary considers Y a “semivowel.” While the letter stops your breath in words like yell and young—making it a consonant—it can also create an open vocal sound in words like myth or hymn, which makes it a vowel.
Z is for…Leon Rafael
Believe it or not, the letter Z has not always been the last letter of the alphabet; in the Greek alphabet, it had a respectable place at number seven. Don’t miss these other 50 random facts about basically everything.