Friday, July 9, 2010

6/ The letter A

The alphabet is a profoundly adaptable and fecund system. What tales can be told from the assembling and orchestration of twenty-six letters and a space!

The letter A was originally drawn as an ox-head (Proto-Sinaitic pictograph, 1500 B.C.). Turn the capital letter A over and one sees the prongs of the ox's horns. How it evolved from a pictograph of an ox-head to an A is a development that can be followed in Proto-Canaanite script.

In its etymological sources, the word ‘ox’ suggests fertility. It derives from the Sanskrit, 'uksati', he emits semen. The Indo-European root is 'ugw', to make wet.

Turn the ox horns upside down and one sees a rudimentary plow. At the end of nomadic cultures in the Near East, with the founding of cities and the beginnings of agriculture and written language, it is fitting that the alphabet had an ox leading the way.

The connections between the ox and written language appear again in the form of Greek writing called boustrophedon (bous = ox) in which the line moves left to right and then right to left on the succeeding line, going down the page as the farmer would plow a field.

The etymological connections grow ever more intriguing when one considers that one of the sources of the word, verse, is the Middle Latin, versus, a furrow.

1 comment:

  1. This enterprise is most entertaining, and sinister (see: left-handed blows, the jab, the hook, and the cross of course).
    Keep it up! (See: the nun, the bishop)

    Gerald Lynch using Mary Jo's Google account