majuscule, minuscule, bodoni, r, greek, latinTake a moment and open the last email you wrote. It’s okay. We’ll wait. Now imagine if you had to write it out on paper, not with a ballpoint pen, but with a pen that you had to dip into a bowl of ink every few words. And make sure not to drip any ink on that expensive parchment. Is your wrist hurting yet?

Medieval scribes spent all day, every day transcribing text. As they were going along, writing perfectly and quickly, the shape of the letters slowly changed to be more efficient. This transformed the alphabet during the Middle Ages. It even gave us capital and lowercase letters. Curious about why we have upper and lowercase letters in the first place? They are technically called majuscule and minuscule. Learn more here.

But why do some of the lowercase letters look so different from their capital equivalents? Most of the letters fit neatly together: C c, F f, J j, H h, L l, X x, etc. But some of them barely look related, like R and r.

Well, the contemporary English alphabet is a direct descendant of the Latin alphabet, which in turn inherited some characteristics from Greek. The Greek alphabet did have lowercase letters, and some of the modern English lowercase letters are directly related to their Greek equivalents. For example, both the uppercase and the lowercase letter A look very similar to the Greek letter Alpha.

r rotunda, minuscule, majusculeBut the Greek alphabet only had 24 letters, and the Latin alphabet had just 21. Obviously, we’ve toyed with them since then. The letter R, for instance, is related to the Greek letter, Rho, which looks like our letter P. (P is not related to this letter, but to the letter Pi, which you may remember from high school geometry). Anyway, back to the slippery letter R. In the Latin alphabet, the R acquired its modern uppercase shape: R. The lowercase r, though, was still figuring itself out.

Those medieval scribes tried to write as quickly and efficiently as possible.  They developed a lowercase version of the letter r that looked a lot like its uppercase equivalent, pictured here. It was called the r rotunda. When writing, the scribes would place that letter next to letters like o, b and p that already had the left staff of the capital letter R, so the lowercase r, then, would look just like its uppercase letter.

Obviously, though, we don’t still use a lowercase r that looks like that. At this same time, another lowercase r was competing with the r rotunda. Greek letters were often written in what we’d call cursive, with the end of one letter going into the beginning of the next. From 100 to 300 A.D., Latin scribes began writing Latin in a Greek style. It was called New Roman Cursive. The New Roman Cursive version of the r is very similar to the lowercase r with which we are familiar. This r looks like part of the lower staff of the capital R and can be easily distinguished from other letters and – most importantly – written quickly.

Are there other letters that you’d like to learn about?


The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY) March 7, 1994 | SCOTT MAXWELL – Associated Press Issuing a warning to the nation’s insurance companies, state insurance commissioners have endorsed a $20 million fine for Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

Met Life, the country’s largest life insurer, is accused of standing by as sales agents deceived tens of thousands of customers.

The company did nothing to stop its agents from misrepresenting life insurance plans as retirement plans, the commissioners said. Retirement plans are fully refundable; life insurance policies are not.

“What they did was totally unacceptable, a horrendous act,” Florida Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher said at the commissioners’ meeting here Sunday.

Met Life disagrees with the size of the proposed fine. metlifedentalnow.net met life dental

“We think $20 million would be excessive in light of the changes we have made and our offers to prevent any customer from losing a dime,” spokesman Charles Sahner says in today’s New York Times.

Met Life has proposed refunding $76 million to up to 60,000 customers nationwide. Any fine would be in addition to mandatory restitution.

Met Life has paid a total of $338,000 in fines in the previous 17 years, the Times said.

The rest of the nation’s life insurance companies should take heed, Gallagher said, calling the fine “a major, across-the-bow warning that it’s time for them to clean up their act.” The panel of 55 members of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners agreed that Met Life should divide $12.5 million in fines among at least 40 state governments, Gallagher said.

The other $7.5 million in fines could be used to increase customer refunds or monitor compliance; the group had not yet decided, he said. see here met life dental

However, the NAIC lacks the authority to impose fines. If Met Life doesn’t agree to the proposal, states are free to each fine the company, Gallagher said.

It could take months to work out a final agreement, he said.

Also Sunday, a report on a Florida investigation into Met Life’s sales practices was released.

The report said Met executives did nothing to make sure customers purchased the best policy for their needs, although even a casual review should have raised a warning flag.

“Imagine the management of a national brokerage firm ignoring information that every account representative in a large office had sold only one stock, and no other stocks, to every customer of that office,” it said.

“Company executives and management chose not to correct this situation out of ignorance, incompetence or greed,” Gallagher said.

Last year, the New York-based company conducted its own investigation of sales practices in its Tampa, Fla., office, then fired several executives and refunded $12 million to customers.

SCOTT MAXWELL – Associated Press


  1. Tomorrowland 2014 Tickets -  March 2, 2014 - 1:15 am

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    basis, this site is truly fastidious and the viewers are truly sharing pleasant

  2. Olivia -  August 12, 2012 - 5:36 pm

    um ok… dint really get that not the best one

  3. Anilisa -  August 4, 2012 - 8:14 am

    @V-raze correct me if im wrong but i believe that The orgin of writiten languages came from cave drawings left by much earlier generations.

  4. Dude -  July 29, 2012 - 6:13 pm

    why are b, d, p and q, the same letter flipped differently?

  5. Gene Fellner -  July 26, 2012 - 10:59 am

    Kiko Rex: In the Pin-Yin romanization system for Mandarin, the letter Q is not an SH sound. It is a CH sound. Precisely, it is a palatal CH sound, like Russian T in “tye,” but with a stronger fricative ending. This contrasts with the Mandarin retroflex CH sound, a CH with the tongue folded back into the roof of the mouth, sounding like a CH superimposed over an R. Both of these sounds are aspirated; there should be a puff of air at the end strong enough to flap a tissue held in front of your mouth.

  6. PearlyArtemusWhite -  July 25, 2012 - 4:18 am

    that is soo cool.
    I don’t know about the origin of letters, but i always wondered why “Atlas” a greek name of a demigod who supported the sky on his shoulders, is also our Atlas: world map.
    weird huh..

  7. Waz up -  July 25, 2012 - 12:36 am


  8. Malakia Molapisi -  July 24, 2012 - 7:31 am

    Its really fascinating to know the Origin of Alphabets

  9. WaltJ -  July 22, 2012 - 10:45 am

    Someone – was it Mark Twain? – wrote an essay suggesting that we eliminate some letters and create a completely phonetic alphabet. At first it was very hard to read but was very efficient. With text messages we seem to be heading that way. R U 4 it?

  10. Kim -  July 22, 2012 - 2:19 am

    what about I and J? having lowercases with some sort of point above their lowercases? :D

  11. Mazing -  July 21, 2012 - 3:10 pm

    I found it very imformative. Thanks! keep on writing helpful things like that.

  12. Shanie -  July 20, 2012 - 2:51 pm

    What letter could i use for the shotened version of the Derek? I use L at the moment as in Del but the sound doesn’t match. DEW doesn’t work either. Any sggestions?

  13. Ailsa -  July 19, 2012 - 6:28 am

    Different than = incorrect
    Different FROM = correct

  14. girl -  July 18, 2012 - 10:37 am

    I get to know more about english due to this awesome site.Thank you dictionary.com. Tell us more a bout similies like :) :( :P B) :X :* Let us know more.

  15. Fireflies -  July 18, 2012 - 7:35 am

    This is really cool! I’m a nut who loves stories of how stuff came to be and originated – really interesting!

  16. Fireflies -  July 18, 2012 - 7:34 am

    This is an intriguing article. Very interesting!

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