The Ten Lost Letters of the English Alphabet (video)

The Ten Lost Letters of the English Alphabet (video) Language Here's a fun and useful video for anyone trying to read historical documents or trying to write historical fiction.

As everyone who has heard the song can attest, English has 26 letters. But what few people know is that it used to have far more characters. The following video explains ten of the characters that have been dropped form English, including for example thorn, the ampersand, and the "long s".

Everyone knows the ampersand, and you also know the thorn - you just didn't know its name. Thorn was a symbol representing the Th sound, and was frequently displayed as a "Y", so all those businesses called "Ye Olde This or That" actually have a name that should be pronounced as "the old this or that".

And then there is the "long s". If you have read old documents (such as the Declaration of Independence) you may have noticed that some words appeared to use an "f" in place of an "s". Congrefs was one example, only that wasn't an "f" in the original document - that was a long s.

This is a fun video, but it's not completely correct - at least one of these letters is still in use even though it has been dropped from virtually all keyboards and font sets.

Speaking of videos, do you know what would also make a good video? A list of letters that were late additions to English.

The letter "j", for example, was still not commonly used as late as 1800. It had only been added to English a couple hundred years before, and many words spelt with a J could also be correctly spelt with an I.

This is part of the reason why Washington DC has no J Street, and why I and J are placed next to each other in the alphabet.

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About Nate Hoffelder (11379 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

2 Comments on The Ten Lost Letters of the English Alphabet (video)

  1. Left unstated in this (very cool) video is that English is a living language that changes with the times and the broader significance of this is that proper English is defined by usage.

    So … the next time someone starts railing against ebonics and various other modern usage trends (and whatnot) you’ll now have the perspective to leave that second-grade grammar nazi teacher of yours behind and say “Au contraire, English is as English does”. That’s intentionally ironic, of course, because French is the exact *opposite* of English. In fact, the French government is waging war, as we speak, on change in their language from English & the internet.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/8820304/Frances-Academie-francaise-battles-to-protect-language-from-English.html

    The more you know, dude.

    • Speaking of the whole ‘screw the rules’ thing, this being Casual Friday and all … and using this place as a refuge from what Traitor Trump is doing to America on this day … the term “spelt” caught my eye since I haven’t seen that spelling in donkey’s ears.

      And, yep, that’s ironic because the term for ‘a very long time’ actually started *as* “donkey’s ears” -https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/donkeys-years.html.

      Turns out, here’s the rule for spelled vs spelt which, I have to admit, was news to me since I didn’t realize that ‘spelt’ was a thing *anywhere*, anymore:
      “Considering local custom when choosing spelled or spelt can help you to get your point across without unnecessary distraction. In the United States, stick with spelled. Elsewhere, spelt is an acceptable option”.
      https://www.grammarly.com/blog/spelled-spelt/

      All kinds of interesting things, huh? Hopefully, we’ll still find English interesting when Trump converts us into a Russian-speaking satellite of Russia.

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