The 27th letter of the alphabet

October 12, 2010

When I get bored I often think about the alphabet. Why are there only 26 letters? Or why are there as many as 26? Who decided? When? Other languages have many more letters. Or less.

I rarely bother looking into this. If I did I’d find answers. And then what would I do when I was bored? I can’t turn to numbers. They just go and on. I guess the only interesting thing I could ponder in terms of numbers is why they come in the order they do. I know a 5 has to come after a 4, but that’s because… well… a 5 represents 5. If a 5 were to represent the number 3, say, then what? But that’s not really worth thinking about for too long.

Letters though, they’re different. I can spend time wondering why 26. Why they come in the order they do. And why do they have the shapes they have. Who decided an ‘A’ should look like ‘A’? After all, if it looked like this- B- and we were all told that B was the first letter of the alphabet and it sounded like this (I can’t make a sound on this computer, but imagine the sound our current A makes), well, we’d all accept it wouldn’t we, and with that one minor change this sentence would read “Bfter bll, if it looked like this- B- bnd we were bll told thbt B wbs the first letter of the blphbet bnd it sounded like this (I cbn’t mbke b sound on this computer, but imbgine the sound our current B mbkes, well, we’d bll bccept it wouldn’t we, bnd with thbt one minor chbnge this sentence of this post would rebd…” Oh, I’ve found myself in a trap. Trbp. And I haven’t thought about the B that already existed. Perhaps we should change all the letters round.

Now I know this much; there used to be a 27th letter of the alphabet. It was the ampersand; it was &. And it came after the Z. Then, at some point, I don’t know when; I’m not going to research this; it went. It remains of course, but it’s not in the alphabet. What a thing! To be sacked from the alphabet! 26 members. That’s an exclusive club.

I propose we bring in a proper new member. A new 27th letter of the alphabet. To be used in words and sounds that haven’t been invented yet.

This would be an exciting event. It would have to not only look like nothing we’ve ever seen before, but it would also have to have a new sound. What would it sound like? What would it look like? When would it be unveiled? Who’d be the first person to ever say it? What new words would we use it in? Where would it go? At the beginning? The end? Somewhere else?

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9 Responses to “The 27th letter of the alphabet”

  1. iamjamesward said

    Funnily enough, I have also considered this. My idea was to introduce a letter to replace common letter combinations.

    My first idea was a letter which would replace “rl” at the end of words such as “pearl”: http://twitpic.com/3gd20

    Then I thought of these designs, but wasn’t sure what sounds they would be:
    http://twitpic.com/3gdkd
    http://twitpic.com/3ge5f

    A combination “T” and “h” for use in words such as “the”. The letter would be called “Thith”:
    http://twitpic.com/3gewu

    Finally, I thought of a combination “Q” and “u” for use in words such as “queue”. It is called “Qua”:
    http://twitpic.com/3gfva

  2. Simon Hickson said

    James, you have given this proper thought and come up with some very real possibilities. I think “thith” and “qua” should be adopted immediately. They do a job, they sound nice, and they look lovely.

    This has also reminded me of a sketch many years ago no Saturday Night Live where Dan Ayckroyd introduced a truncated alphabet where one of the letters was “LMNO”, quickly pronounced as “elemeno”. I think the idea was to save time, something me and Trev appropriated (pinched) many years later for our Futur men characters on Live and Kicking!

  3. iamjamesward said

    The trouble is, I am not sure how you go about introducing a new letter to the alphabet. Which organisation oversees management of the alphabet? Perhaps the Department For Culture, Media And Sport. Maybe I’ll write to Jeremy Hunt.

  4. roystonvanderkerkoff said

    I think there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, and Japanese doesn’t really have letters as far as I know. In the spirit of your own scientific method though, I’m just going to assume that’s true and not go looking to see. But I think there must be a fair spread in amounts of letters depending on language.

    I think if anything was worth looking up on this subject it’s be the phonetic alphabet. Though I don’t know whether even that would cover some of the clicks in some African languages or a glottal stop.

  5. Simon Hickson said

    Thank you Royston. I like it. i like it because it looks like this… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IPA_chart_2005_png.svg

  6. Brett Hunt said

    That is an interesting idea and a valid argument you have. I have thought about this idea before, although I’ve never went very deep into it. I have another argument that should possibly be raised though. Can enough English speaking people even properly communicate with the 26 letters we have?

  7. I can’t be bothered looking v.deeply into this either, but it’s a great subject!

    I know it’s not a letter but I’ve always really liked the inverted exclamation mark that occurs in Spanish “¡” which basically operates like an opening speech mark before something that is exclaimed so ¡help! or probably more correctly ¡ayuda! Without it (in English) you don’t really know that something should be exclaimed until it’s too late. They’ve also got a topsy turvy question mark ¿ that works the same way with questions.

    As for a new letter I would nominate something from “Windings” in Microsoft word etc. What are Windings all about anyway? whoever decided what they were? I’ve got a suspicion that some Microsoft employee made them up in his lunch break in 1996 and nobody ever bothered taking them off.

    It seems like an opportunity lost to have them there but never use them.

    It’s a shame your lizard letter nor the J with legs doesn’t appear in Windings though as they’re fantastic.

  8. Mark the Analyst said

    I seem to recall from a pub quiz in the dim and distant past that the official language of Cambodia has over 70 letters in its alphabet. Maybe we would nip over there, grab a few and sneak them in to our alphabet. With so many, they probably wouldn’t notice and we would get some lovely new ready made letters – easy.

    Sky would probably to an 8 part documentary on it all as well !

  9. jaybee said

    i am SO glad i am not the only nutcase on the planet. My roomie “ant” and i have created the 27th letter of the alphabet and are now looking into how to copywright it and add it to wikpedia. altho i wont show the symbol until we have it recorded, it is essentially the ock- looks like an o with a k thru it. think of all the shortened words and ink it will save. a block becomes bl (ock)
    cl(ock) d(ock) and fl(ock). of course ending the alphabet song with it will sound weird, we will make it work.3 cheers for OCK!

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