Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The I's Have It

This week's topic is just for fun. I hope you enjoy it.

This week: "The I's Have It"

The alphabet. In English it is 26 letters long. Other languages have more or less letters, but all letters are vital to us as we attempt written communication. Until recently, I’m afraid I took these symbols of English for granted, as though they were always just there.

It happened on a day I was browsing the encyclopedia. (Oh, yes, I’m quite an intellectual, you know. I once got an A+ on an I. Q. test.) As I paged through volume 9 containing the letter “I” I came across a biography for the ninth letter of the English alphabet.

My immediate reaction was, "What’s to know? It’s a line straight up and down. Big deal. Move a stick in the sand or scratch a mark on a flat rock with a white pebble and there’s an 'I.'” Yet the encyclopedia contained a full page doing “This is your Life” for that seemingly insignificant letter.

Apparently the modern “I” is the result of a marriage between the Greek letter “iota” and the ancient Phoenician and Hebrew letter “yod.” I had never heard the word “yod” before except when I was listening to a man from Boston talk about his yard.

The yod was said to look like a backwards upper case “F,” and it was a “semiconsonant.” It sometimes sounded like the “Y” in “yellow” and sometimes like the “ee” in “see.”

The Greeks took the yod from the Phoenicians, called it “iota,” and by 400 something BC had given the “I” the straight up and down line look we know so well.

The Greeks decided the yod, called the iota should be only a vowel. None of this indecisive semiconsonant stuff for them. The Romans, however, learned the Greek alphabet and changed the iota back to a sometimes vowel and sometimes consonant. Then they went one step further. They actually gave the “J” sound in “jewel” to the letter “I.”

The Romans handed off this alphabet to the western Europeans who continued the Roman tradition of the “I” and “J” sounds in one letter “I” until the seventeenth century when “J” became a separate letter.

Imagine if that change to the “J” had never taken place. Jill would be Iill. Jack would be Iack. Jo, Ioe. And the Olympics would have a iavelin throw.

The letter “I” stands for the element iodine in chemistry. “I” represents the word international in abbreviations such as ITT or IBM. It is said the “I” denotes intelligence in the CIA, and it means investigation in FBI. The “I” can even represent numbers as in III or IV or VII.

Imagine living life with no “I’s.” We would be saying “Me and Al are gong to the bowlng alley” or “Me am studyng my Englsh.” Tragic, indeed, yet the worst thing of all is that without “I’s” we could not “C.”


I hope this brought a smile to you today.

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award Winning Author
Fran's Website

No comments: