Fun Fact Friday: Underappreciated Alphabet

Written by: Abigail Taylor


As lovers of English, we all have a special appreciation for words and their unique histories.  However, we don’t spend much time thinking about the 26 building blocks that make up the words, sentences, and stories we love so dearly.  I would like to dedicate this Fun Fact Friday to the essential but underappreciated letters of our English alphabet.  Here are 10 fun facts you probably didn’t know about the letters of our alphabet, courtesy of David Sacks and his book Language Visible.

  1. Excellent “E” – The letter “E” is the most frequently used letter in the English language.  “E” beats out the second most frequently used letter, “T,” by almost 30% more usage.Grade E+ written on an exam paper
  2. Hardly Real “H”- Some scholars have argued that we should do away with the letter “H” because it isn’t a “true letter.”  They contest that the letter “H” really doesn’t make any true sound of its own and only serves to “thicken” the sounds of other letters it is paired with.
  3. Juvenile “J”- The letter “J” is a relatively young letter, one of the last to be added to the Roman alphabet.  The letter “I” was used to represent both the “I” and “J” sounds until about 1500 A.D.  At that time, the letter “J” was adopted and “I” no longer had to do double duty.
  4. Lovely “L”-  The sound of the letter “L” is considered one of the most beautiful sounds in human speech.                                               lovely
  5. Momma “M”-  Some scholars believe that the word for “mother” starts with the “M” sound in many languages because that is one of the first sounds that a baby can make.
  6. Popular “P”- Don’t underestimate the letter “P.” One-third of the words in the English language start with the letters “S,” “C,” and “P.”
  7. Rad “R”- The letter “R” is a defining letter.  Linguists use the letter “R” to divide all English speakers into two groups: rhotic speakers, who pronounce “R’s” as they are written, and nonrhotic speakers, who leave out the “R’s.”                      letter-r
  8. Triumphant “T”-The letter “T” has historically been associated with Christ and the crucifixion because of its resemblance to a cross.
  9. Weird “W”-In the early days of the printing press, printers didn’t have a separate stamp for “W” so they literally used two lowercase “U’s” to represent the “W.”
  10. Xtra cool “X”- In medieval times, illiterate peasants often signed official documents with an “X” and then kissed the “X” to show their commitment to the terms of the document.  This practice eventually led to the letter “X” representing a kiss!


The next time you pick up your favorite novel or discover an awesome new word, make sure you take a moment to appreciate the wonderful letters that made those words possible.  If you enjoyed these facts and want to continue reading about the amazing letters that make up our alphabet, be sure to check out Language Visible by David Sacks!  Have an awesome Friday!
Check out more fun facts about the alphabet in:   Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks

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