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Showing posts from 2012

Word of the month: 'Alphabet' or 'ABC'?

The word alphabetum , which is well attested in classical Latin, is found in British medieval Latin from the sixth century and again in Bede (DMLBS 1,69b). It appears, however, that the vernacular languages in use in England in the Middle Ages (English and Anglo-Norman) did not incorporate it, but prefered either ABC , or words derived from that. David Crystal’s  Story of English in 100 Words  (London: Profile Books, 2011) notes that the word alphabet does not occur in English until the sixteenth century. Hardly surprising in some ways, one might think, since the word is derived from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet ( alpha ,  beta ), and Greek was not much studied in England before the Renaissance. But the situation is not quite that simple. Firstly, the word alphabet  is in fact found in English rather earlier than Crystal claims: both the OED and the MED provide a first attestation from an anonymous translation of Ranulf Higden’s  Polychronicon , w