Q – Ball of Wool
Circa 1000 BC, the letter ‘Q’ was introduced, sounding like “kwaff” and meaning “ball of wool.” Although the circular part of the letter was there since its inception, the ‘tail’ portion moved around quite a bit, first as a vertical line down the middle. Later in 520 BC, the Romans moved the line to its current lower-right position, and determined that the letter “U” should always follow the “Q.”
R—A Person in Profile
The Semitics introduced the letter “R” as a symbol for a human’s profile. It was pronounced “resh,” and meant “head.” The Romans then flipped it to the opposite direction and included a tail, likely to differentiate it from the letter “P.”
S—The Archer’s Bow
The letter “S” first came into use around 3600 years ago. Its curvy shape was representative of an archer’s bow. It was initially a horizontally-oriented letter, but it was the Greeks who stood it up, and gave it the name “sigma,” as well its “s” sound.
“X” might mark the spot now, but this was not always the case. The Phoenicians’ name for the letter “T” was “taw,” which translates to “mark.” The Greeks later gave it the name “tau,” and then added the cross stroke at the top to help make it distinguishable from other letters.
Around 1000 BC, the Phoenicians introduced what would become the letter “U”, although it started out looking more like our letter “Y.” They called this letter “waw” which was their word for “peg.” About 300 years later, the Greeks adapted the letter and renamed it “upsilon.”