Thursday, April 27, 2017

Our alphabet and
how it got that way

ABCDEFGHI_KLMNOPQRST_V_XYZ: from The American Heritage Dictionary, it’s a succinct account of the differences between the alphabet the Romans used (twenty-three letters) and our own.

I had to laugh when I began reading: ”As everyone knows, there are 26 letters. . . .” Well, not everyone. I recall a Great Moment in Teaching from the early 2000s, when I was explaining to a class that the Iliad and Odyssey had each been divided into twenty-four parts for the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet. In other words, the episodes had been lettered, not numbered. A hand went up: “How many letters are there in our alphabet?” I didn’t bat an eye: “Twenty-six.” Yes, this was in college.

When I told recounted this moment to Elaine, she suggested a different response, to be said in a kindly, speaking-to-a-child tone of voice: “You can count them yourself.”

comments: 2

Frex said...

Oh, there's something sweet in that student so, um, trustingly? asking you how many letters we have in our alphabet. I picture it like Opie asking Pa a question.

I know they were waaaay older than Opie, so something's wrong with that picture, but still... I like that you just answered plainly and didn't mock them.

Michael Leddy said...

It is Opie-like! And yes, there’s no point in mocking the question. Just keep moving along.