5 Amazing True Stories about the Invention of the Alphabet

I bet a lot of you thought you were done learning about the alphabet. "The alphabet? The ABC thing? Yeah, I think I've got that pretty down pat, G," you'd say wittily.

Well I'm here to tell you that no, you don't know everything there is to know about the alphabet -- that in fact, the alphabet's been playing you for a sap. So learn with me, friend, the stunning facts that the alphabet doesn't want you to know about.

#5. J Is the Newest, Trendiest Letter (and Was Originally Pronounced Like "I")

The alphabet didn't appear fully formed out of nowhere, blasted into rock by a really unlikely lightning bolt. It was invented, in spurts and stages, as different civilizations borrowed ideas about writing from their peers. The practical effect of this is that some letters are older or younger than others, the youngest of them being J, which didn't appear until some time in the Middle Ages.

De Agostini / A. Dagli Orti/Getty Images
"I just invented a new letter!"
"That's good, m'lord. My entire family expired today."
"It's called J!"

J got its start hanging around in I's posse, and the first J's were basically I's that some monk got a little crazy drawing.

Catherine Lane/E+/Getty Images
"Let's iazz this shit up a bit."

These long I, J-looking things would have still been pronounced as "I" for a while, but at some point in the Middle Ages, they took on that "J" sound we all know and love. Once that process began, all sorts of I words were given new, trendy J's for no real reason. The most notable of these hip new J-wearers was a guy called Jesus, previous known as Iesus (and Yeshua way before that).

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"Nice work translating my name, guys. Good work all around."

So that's kind of fun, right? A little tidbit to share in the next circle ierk you end up in?

#4. W, U, and V Used to Be the Same Letter

The sound we say when we say a letter in isolation is called its name, and some of them are kind of interesting. Like, for example, what the fuck is up with H? Aitch? Haitch? What are you doing, H?

Nils Hendrik Mueller/Cultura/Getty Images
Why are you still here, H? Why don't you just go home?

But nothing is as dumb as W, because that motherfucker is clearly, clearly made up of two V's, not U's. Well, it turns out that way back in toga times, U and V were basically the same letter. Which is why old Roman signage, despite being written in Latin, and thus kind of similar to the language we speak, seems to have way too many V's in it.

Rossignol Benoit via Wikimedia Commons
My Latin's not great, but I think this one's advertising an upcoming boxing match between Caesar and the Pope.

The U was supposedly the vowel version of the letter and the V the consonant version, but they were still written the same, and also probably pronounced like "W," so who knows what the fuck was really going on. W, U, and V all basically came from the same letter (so did Y, actually).


This little corner of the alphabet is so inbred that we're lucky we don't have a doubledouble-U around, drooling over everything.

#3. "Ye" Is Actually a Single Letter (and We're Pronouncing It Totally Wrong)

OK, so you know that store in the quaint part of the mall that sell things you never need to buy? Buttons and bobbins and such? The one that for some reason has "Ye" in its name? Like most people, you've probably seen those signs and walked into the shop to punch the shopkeeper directly in the eye for being so twee. "Why don't you just write 'The,' you pompous ass?" you shrieked into his face.

Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"I HOPE A WALMART COMES IN AND JUST CRUSHES YOU."

Well it turns out that they did actually write "The," even if they didn't really know it. Because back in ye old times, that "Ye" wasn't spelled with a "Y" but a completely separate letter called a "thorn." Here's what a thorn looks like when it's wearing a little "e" as a hat:

Wikimedia Commons

Look familiar? That P or Y-looking thing is the thorn, and is pronounced "th." With the adorable little hat, it is pronounced exactly the same as "the," and the modern interpretation, Ye, should probably be pronounced the same way. It's actually a pretty useful letter, considering how widely used "the" is in the English language. There's even at least one fella suggesting we build an entirely new letter just to accommodate it.


Needs a hat if you ask me.

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