Definitions

letter

letter

[let-er]
letter: see alphabet.

Uppercase, capital, or large letter in calligraphy, in contrast to the minuscule, lowercase, or small letter. All the letters in a majuscule script are contained between a single pair of real or theoretical horizontal lines. The earliest known Roman majuscule letters are in the style known as square capitals, distinguished by downstrokes that are heavier than upstrokes and by serifs (short strokes at right angles to the top and bottom of a letter). Square capitals were used mainly in inscriptions on Roman imperial monuments. Rustic capitals, used in books and official documents, formed a freer, more elliptical script. Roman cursive capitals, a running-hand script used for notes and letters, were a forerunner of the minuscule scripts that appeared later.

Learn more about majuscule with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Lowercase letters in calligraphy, in contrast to majuscule, or uppercase letters. Unlike majuscules, minuscules are not fully contained between two real or hypothetical lines; their stems can go above or below the line. Developed by Alcuin in the 8th century, it allowed the division of writing into sentences and paragraphs by beginning sentences with capital letters and ending them with periods. The script was originally rounded, but gradually the strokes became heavier until it became what is now known as Gothic or black letter script.

Learn more about minuscule with a free trial on Britannica.com.

or Gothic script or Old English script

Black letter, type as used in the 42-line Bible issued at Mainz, 1456.

Style of alphabet used in handwriting throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. It features uniform vertical strokes that end on the baseline, angular lines instead of smooth curves and circles, and the overlapping of convex forms. Black letter and roman were the dominant letter shapes of medieval typography. The only extant work known to have been printed by Johannes Gutenberg, the 42-line Bible (1450s), was set in black-letter type. Roman type largely superseded it in the Renaissance, though black letter persisted in Germany well into the 20th century. Today black letter is often used for diplomas, Christmas cards, and liturgical writings.

Learn more about black letter with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Alpha (uppercase Α, lowercase α; Αλφα) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 1. It was derived from the Phoenician letter Aleph . Letters that arose from Alpha include the Latin A and the Cyrillic letter А.

In both Classical Greek and Modern Greek, alpha represents the Open front unrounded vowel, /a/.

Plutarch in Moralia, presents a discussion on why the letter alpha stands first in the alphabet. Ammonius asks Plutarch what he, being a Boeotian, thinks of Cadmus, the Phoenician who reputedly settled in Thebes and introduced the alphabet to Greece, placing alpha first because it is the Phoenician name for ox -- which, unlike Hesiod, the Phoenicians considered not the second or third, but the first of all necessities. "Nothing at all" Plutarch replied. He then added that he would rather be assisted by Lamprias, his own grandfather, than by Dionysus' grandfather, i.e. Cadmus. For Lamprias had said that the first articulate sound made is "alpha", because it is very plain and simple — the air coming off the mouth does not require any motion of the tongue — and therefore this is the first sound that children make.

The Homeric word "alphesiboios" (ἀλφεσίβοιος) is associated with both the root "alph-" and "ox". It is derived from "alphanō" (ἀλφάνω) meaning to yield, earn and "bous" (βοῦς) meaning ox, hence alphesiboios means bringing in or acquiring oxen.

According to Plutarch's natural order of attribution of the vowels to the planets, alpha was connected with the Moon. Oxen were also associated with the Moon in both early Sumerian and Egyptian religious symbolism, possibly due to the crescent shape of their horns.

Alpha, both as a symbol and term, is used to refer to or describe a variety of things, including the first or most significant occurrence of something. The New Testament has God declaring himself to be the "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (Revelation 22:13, KJV, and see also 1:8).

The uppercase letter alpha is not generally used as a symbol because it tends to be rendered identically to the uppercase latin A.

Common notational uses

Alpha is used extensively in physics and chemistry to represent many things, such as alpha radiation, alpha particles and alpha carbon. Alpha also stands for thermal expansion coefficient of a compound in physical chemistry. It is also commonly used in mathematics in algebraic solutions representing things like angle.

Linguistic correlates

In the Runic alphabet of the Elder Futhark in received shamanic oral lore traditions from Scandinavia, the alphabet is a cycle rather than a linear progression and Ur commences the cycle that Fe closes, both are cattle, which is a correlate to the Christian Alpha and Omega.

References

Search another word or see letteron Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;