MLA Gold Award Site

Excerpt from Spell It Out by David Crystal, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Spell It Out

The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling

by David Crystal

Spell It Out
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2013, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2014, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Excerpt
Spell It Out

A,a

A has been the first letter of the alphabet for the whole of its history. Originally a consonant, aleph (meaning 'ox'), in the Semitic alphabet, it became the vowel alpha in Greek. The lower-case 'open a' is a development of the capital letter, with the addition of a left-facing loop at the top and a lowering of the cross-bar. The lower-case 'closed a' is an italic development from the medieval period.

B,b

B has been the second letter of the alphabet since Semitic times, a consonant whose name was beth (meaning 'house'). It emerged in the later Greek alphabet as a capital letter with a shape close to its modern form. The lowercase letter developed from a later style of handwriting consisting of simple rounded letter shapes.

C,c

C has been the third letter of the alphabet since Semitic times, developing its right-facing curve in the Latin alphabet. The lower-case letter is simply a smaller form of the capital. Neither has changed much in shape in the past 2,000 years.

D,d

The fourth letter of the alphabet since Semitic times, D derives from Greek delta, ?. A right-rounded shape appeared in Latin, and this came into English. The lower-case letter is a development of the capital, written rapidly to produce a form with a lengthened upper stroke and a reduced, left-rounded lower element.

E,e

E was a consonant symbol in the Semitic alphabet, but was used as a vowel in Greek, one of its shapes emerging in Latin and eventually in English as the capital letter. The lower-case letter developed as a smaller, rounded variant of the capital in a cursive style of handwriting.

F,f

F, along with U, V and W, comes from a single symbol used in the North Semitic alphabet. This gave rise to two letters in early Greek, one of which was adopted by the Etruscans and Romans. The elongated lower-case form arose later, when scribes began to run letters together in handwriting.

G,g

G is found first in the 4th century BC, in a revised version of the Latin alphabet. Previous alphabets had used the C symbol for the g sound (as in god), and the new symbol was a simple adaptation of that, adding a small crossbar. The lower-case form went through a complex set of changes to produce the modern symbols – the g with a closed lower element, as usually seen in print, and the 'open g' of handwriting.

H,h

H was originally a Semitic letter which came into Latin via Greek and Etruscan to represent the /h/ sound. The lower-case rounded form arose with the development of handwriting.

I,i

I was a consonant in the Semitic alphabet, represented a vowel in Greek, and came into Latin with both vowel and consonant values. The lower-case letter is a smaller form of the capital. The dot was originally a small diacritic, similar to an acute accent, added in early Middle English to distinguish the stroke of an i from the otherwise identical strokes of adjacent letters (m, n, u).

J,j

The history of this letter in English dates only from the medieval period. Originally a graphic variant of i (a lengthened form with a bottom left-facing curve), it gradually came to replace i whenever that letter represented a consonant, as in jewel. The lower-case distinction did not become standard until the mid-17th century, and there was uncertainty about the upper-case distinction even as late as the early 19th century

. K,k

K was a Semitic letter which came into Latin via Greek and Etruscan. It was little used in Latin (which preferred C and Q), and it is uncommon in Old English. The lower-case form arose in handwriting through a simple extension of the upright stroke above the line.

L,l

L was a symbol in the Semitic alphabet, and developed via Greek, Etruscan and Latin into the modern capital form, with a horizontal line replacing an earlier oblique. The lower-case letter arose in handwriting, when scribes joined L to adjacent letters by using an upper loop and turning the horizontal stroke into a curve. These linking features were omitted in the printed form.

From Spell it Out by David Crystal. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Everybody's Fool
    Everybody's Fool
    by Richard Russo
    Written from multiple viewpoints, Everybody's Fool features an ensemble cast of inhabitants ...
  • Book Jacket: The Strings of Murder
    The Strings of Murder
    by Oscar de Muriel
    As Jack the Ripper eludes the police at Scotland Yard in London and all efforts to catch the most ...
  • Book Jacket: If I Was Your Girl
    If I Was Your Girl
    by Meredith Russo
    Who defines us? Do we ourselves, or does the society in which we live? Meredith Russo's ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    A Certain Age
    by Beatriz Williams

    The Roaring Twenties comes to life in this tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Since She Went Away
    by David Bell

    A chilling novel of guilt, regret, and a past which refuses to die...

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

C To T Q

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.