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Sunday, November 6, 2011

F, f November, The Alphabet Project

            During November I'll be blogging about etymology and the origins of the alphabet.

            F, f: From the Phonecian Waw, “peg.”   Originally it seems to have been designed to drive slant-wise into the ground, but the Greeks straightened it up and twisted the top over to resemble our own F.  They called the result digamma, but it didn't catch on, and by the time of Socrates the letter had disappeared, but not before being picked up by the Etruscans and passed to the Romans, who changed its sound from /w/ to /f/.  A less-altered version of waw, the Greeks called upsilon (U), which became the immediate ancestor of Y.  Chopping the stem off yielded U, V, and W.

Factoid: An unlovely neologism from the Latin fact and the Greek suffix –oid, a bastardy compounded by almost universal misuse as “a small fact.”  Logically, the word does mean “a fact,” but something that resembles one.  An asteroid is not a small star, but something that resembles it, and a humanoid ony resembles a human; it is not a dwarf.  Genuine factoids include such generally accepted nonsense as domestic violence’s rising during Super Bowls (it decreases), the Eskimo’s having twenty-four different words for snow (Eskimo per se is not a language, but the Aleut and Inuit have about the same number of words for snow as English.), and during the equinox its being possible to balance an egg on end (It is always possible to balance an egg on end; it merely takes repeated attempts.)  Add to the examples of factoid above, the mistaken definition of factoid being “a small fact.”

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