The Letter F

Today Friday 27 May is bought to you by the letter F. I must admit my interest in the letter F was piqued last Friday when I came across a list of fabulous Friday words on my continuing Facebook obsession site Grammarly . My favourite Friday find was the verb FUDGEL – meaning pretending to work when you’re not actually doing anything at all. And if you think that to fudgel is a relatively new phenomena, think again. The word fudgel as been around for more than 200 years.

The letter F, of course, has been around for way more than 200 years.  And because I am in no way an expert letter historian, I had no idea just how much there is to this history of letters shenanigans. My goodness – it’s a fascinating historical combination of linguistics, anthropology, invention, script, tribe, region and nation state. How was I to know that the sixth letter of the alphabet ‘F’ has its origins in the Semitic letter vâv (or waw) that represented a sound like /v/ or /w/ and that graphically it probably depicted either a hook or a club? Or that may have been based on a comparable Egyptian hieroglyph such as that which represented the word mace (transliterated as ḥ(dj))?

Just how popular is the letter F today? According to those who know, no exact letter frequency distribution underlies English or any other language, since all writers write slightly differently. However, most languages have a characteristic distribution which is strongly apparent in longer texts. According to Pavel Mička‘s website, which cites Robert Lewand’s Cryptological Mathematics, arranged from most to least common in appearance, the letters are: etaoinshrdlcumwfgypbvkjxqz.  Nothing wrong with coming in at 16th letter F.

And the frequency of the first letters of words? According to Simon Singh,the first letter of English words most to least common is  t o a w b c d s f m r h i y e g l n p u j k. Hah…you’re ninth now Letter F.

This is extremely helpful in the dying art of pre-assigning space in physical files,indexes and multi-volume works such as encyclopedias which as far as I can tell are now only used by Paul Smith for styling. It’s mighy helpful if you want to decipher secret messages. Singh’s website the Black Chamber is a ton of fun for that. Who knows when you’ll need to be all over the order of frequency of single letters or the order of frequency of digraphs and trigraphs?  I can think of many ways I need to know the most common doubles, initial letters, final letters, as well as the most frequent one, two, three and four -letter words.

And it’s also mightily helpful  for gift wrapping. I will declare right off the bat, that I have only used single letters in gift wrapping to date. And single letters mean monograms. So it is that this fine Friday, far from fudgelling, I am bringing a gift wrap to you from the letter F. Using an outline I found online – and there are a fair few , I printed out a letter F on micro black dot kraft paper. I then attached it to some plain black paper for some final finesse. Digraphs and trigraphs will have to wait.




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