Symbolically Speaking: The Alphabet (Part 3)


L – God

The letter ‘L’ first emerged around 1800 BC as a hook-shaped symbol called “El”, a Semitic word for “God”.  Then, the Phoenicians got a hold of it, flipped it around and called it “lamed” (lah-med), which meant “cattle prod”.  Finally, the Romans came along and changed the hook shape into a right angle, giving the ‘L’ the form we know today.




M – Water

The Egyptians originated the ‘M’ as a vertical wavy line with five peaks, a symbol for “water”.  It was then reduced to three peaks, and then finally to two peaks by the Phoenicians, who also gave it a horizontal orientation, thus creating the modern ‘M’.





N – The Cobra

The second snake on our list (the first being the letter ‘J’), the Egyptians created the letter ‘N’ circa 1800 BC as a representation of a cobra.  The Semitics gave it the familiar ‘n’ sound, and the Greeks later renamed it “nu” about 800 years later.





O – The Eye

An Egyptian hieroglyph meaning “eye” and also called “ayin” by the Semitics, the letter ‘O’ ultimately got its current shape from the Phoenicians, who simplified the shape of the letter by making it a single circle.





P – The Mouth

You’ve likely seen the ubiquitous :p emoji, where the letter ‘P’ is used to symbolize a mouth.  But did you know the Semitics beat us to the punch 4,000 years ago?  The Phoenicians adapted the letter by adding a hook shape at the top.  The Romans closed the hook, flipped the letter around and in 200 BC gave the world the modern letter ‘P’.

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