the ox, began as the image of an ox's head. It represents a
glottal stop before a vowel. The Greeks, needing vowel symbols,
used it for alpha (A).
Romans used it as A.
the house, may have derived from a more rectangular Egyptian alphabetic
glyph of a reed shelter (but which stood for the sound h). The
called it beta (B), and it was
passed on to the Romans as B.
the camel, may have originally been the image of a boomerang-like
throwing stick. The Greeks called it gamma (Γ). The Etruscans
-- who had no g sound -- used it for the k sound, and passed it on to
the Romans as C. They in
turn added a short bar to it to make it
do double duty as G.
the door, may have originally been a fish! The Greeks turned it
into delta (Δ), and passed it
to the Romans as D.
may have meant window, but originally represented a man, facing us with
raised arms, calling out or praying. The Greeks used it for the
vowel epsilon (E, "simple
E"). The Romans used it as E.
the hook, may originally have represented a mace. The Greeks used
one version of waw which looked like our F, which they called digamma,
for the number 6.
This was used by the Etruscans for v, and they passed it on to the
Romans as F. The
Greeks had a second version -- upsilon
which they moved to to the back of their alphabet. The Romans
used a version of
upsilon for V, which later
would be written U as well,
then adopted the
Greek form as Y. In 7th
century England, the W --
"double-u" -- was
may have meant sword or some other kind of weapon. The Greeks
used it for zeta (Z). The
Romans only adopted it later as Z,
and put it at the end of their
the fence, was a "deep throat" (pharyngeal) consonant. The Greeks
used it for the vowel eta (H),
the Romans used it for H.
may have originally represented a spindle. The Greeks used it for
theta (Θ), but the
who did not have the th sound, dropped it.
the hand, began as a representation of the entire arm. The Greeks
used a highly simplified version of it for iota (Ι). The Romans used
it as I, and later added a
variation for J.
the hollow or palm of the hand, was adopted by the Greeks for kappa (K) and
passed it on to the Romans as K.
began as a picture of an ox stick or goad. The Greeks used it
for lambda (Λ). The
turned it into L.
the water, became the Greek mu
The Romans kept it as M.
the fish, was originally a snake or eel. The Greeks used it for nu (N), and the Romans for N.
which also meant fish, is of uncertain origin. It may have
represented a tent peg or some kind of support. It bears a strong
resemblance to the Egyptian djed pillar seen in many sacred
carvings. The Greeks used it for xi
(Ξ) and a simplified variation of it for chi (X).
kept only the variation as X.
the eye, was another "deep throat" consonant. The Greeks used it
for omicron (O, "little
O"). They developed a variation of it for omega (Ω, "big O"), and put
it at the end of their alphabet. The Romans kept the
original for O.
the mouth, may have originally been a symbol for a corner. The
Greeks used it for pi
The Romans closed up one side and turned it into P.
a sound between s and sh, is of uncertain origin. It may have
originally been a symbol for a plant, but later looks more like a fish
hook. The Greeks did not use it, although an odd variation does
show up as sampi (Ϡ), a symbol for 900. The Etruscans used it in
shape of an M for their sh sound, but the Romans had no need for it.
the monkey, may have originally represented a knot. It was used
for a sound similar to k but further back in the mouth. The
Greeks only used it for the number 90 (Ϙ), but the Etruscans and Romans
the head, was used by the Greeks for rho
The Romans added a line
to differentiate it from their P and made it R.
the tooth, may have originally represented a bow. Although it was
first pronounced sh, the Greeks used it sideways for sigma (Σ). The Romans rounded
it to make S.
the mark, was used by the Greeks for tau
The Romans used it for T.