What the b—

What the b—

Ever wondered where the letters of the Roman alphabet, used in writing most European-originating languages, come from? Considering this arose around thinking about euphemistic ways of both not speaking and at the same time speaking offensive words in racialised terms, as with ‘the N word‘ in North American/European contexts and ‘the K word‘ in South Africa.

All letters of the alphabet have a history. In the case of the letter B, for instance, it first appeared in a recognisable form in the Phoenician alphabet, most likely adapted from an Egyptian hieroglyph. It seems that the hieroglyph represented a shelter or house, with this word pronounced something like ‘beh’ or ‘beyt’. Turn a capital B on its side and a roof with a central entrance appears. It also seems that in different versions of the alphabet over time B has retained its second place in the order of letters, but why they appear in the order – A to Z – that they do is not something about which information has been found. Such information gratefully received if anyone knows. A light-hearted (and very simple) illustrated history of letters in the alphabet appears in an issue of the New York Post, click here.

Last updated:  28 October 2021


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