Gotta love letters — A. B. C.’s. Without ‘em, our civilization wouldn’t exist. Other languages – other letters: Cyrillic, Arabic, Greek, Chinese pictographs, Druidic runes, Egyptian hieroglyphs. Throughout history, in all cultures, somehow, someone has figured out a way to record our activities in a more permanent way than fickle memory allows.
The alphabet used in many modern language groups is made up of 26 letters and has the most versatility, as it doesn’t rely on the principle of one symbol, one concept.
Our alphabet, our letters, derive from Latin. The modern English alphabet consists of 26 letters, each having an upper- and lower-case form. The alphabet’s current form originated in about the 7th century from the Latin script. Since then, various letters have been added or removed, to give the current Modern English alphabet of 26 letters.
First letter of the English alphabet.
The quintessential Canadian expression; “How ya doin’, A?” (often written as “eh” so as not to confuse Americans.
A uniquely Canadian term added to a common and overused expletive in order to express extreme approval: “Awesome, man! Fuckin’-A!”
Also means one, single or specific; A robin sat on a branch: one robin, one branch.
First or best: A is the grade you most want to get on a test.
Blood type inherited from ancestral plant eaters.
A small honey-producing insect living in hive communities, and who understandably stings you when you try to steal her food supplies.
The second letter and the test grade you’ll settle for if you can’t get an A.
Another blood type.
A nice brassiere cup size for slight, well-proportioned women.
Middle C is the first note you learn when studying piano.
A small ocean.
To perceive, using the eyes.
An affirmative reply in Spanish and Italian.
To make something the object of an action: “Define” – to make fine distinctions, “Deride” – to make risible, “Delineate”, to outline.
To remove or undo, as in: “Delete”. Presumably “to lete” means to put something in, though to denote means the same thing as to note, so, as usual, the English language defies specificity, leaving us all in a permanent state of confusion.
An indication of place of origin, especially in the French language.
Symbol for Deuterium in the Periodic Table of Elements.
A bigger cup size, often conjured up by the imaginations and desires of adolescent boys.
Often used to denote East on maps and GPS (we’ll get to those letters later).
The top and bottom strings of a standard-tuned guitar.
Short form of the term “electronic”, to denote digital output: E-book, e-learning.
An expression of emphasis or excitement in the Inuktitut language: “Eee-mah!”
Short form of ex, meaning out: “Emit”, or “put out”. (See adolescent boys, letter D.)
The grade you don’t want to get on a test. Denotes Failure.
Fahrenheit temperature scale.
Difficult chord to play on guitar.
Often used in conjunction with the word “word”, to denote a common expletive while in polite company, also known as the F-bomb.
A common expression indicating a moment of indecision or a desire for more time to think: “Gee, I don’t know.”
A slang term meaning the sum of a thousand dollars, a G-note, not to be confused with Denote.
A command to a horse asking it to turn right, though horses don’t know right from left. Or right from wrong.
A common term for heroin.
Ironically, the H is silent when saying its name: aitch.
An uncomfortable feeling on the skin of someone from the American south or southwest: “Ah fell in some poison ahvy an’ I aitch all over.”
A part of the nervous system able to perceive light in such a way as to interpret and determine colour, intensity and depth. In humans there are two I’s, placed towards the front of the head, thus making it impossible to C behind themselves, though it’s rumoured that most mothers have overcome this disability to a remarkable degree.
Denotes the self (first person singular). Often the primary subject of a self-involved narcissist’s conversation, this trait can sometimes be highly beneficial, winning this person many deluded supporters and gaining him high office.
Sailor slang meaning yes, usually spoken twice in response to an officer’s command and often accompanied by a salute. “Aye aye, Cap’n!”
First letter of the names of most new Apple products.
An outdated slang term for a marijuana cigarette, derived from the nickname, “joint”.
A rude, noisy bird in the crow family, found in North America and Europe.
A common diminutive of any man’s name beginning with the letter J.
Originally Latin, now in common use to denote the term kilo or one thousand: kilogram, kilometre, kilobyte. Nowadays, a kilobyte is considered a very small amount of data, more of a kilonibble, really.
Used in triplicate, it’s the short designation of a prominent racist organization.
Short form for okay used in texting, because typing “okay” just takes soooo long.
Litre, a measure of fluids.
Symbol for the British pound.
Often used to denote an architectural construction with one wing at right angles to another.
Symbol for size large, (or in the ladies’ department: normal).
Roman numeral for 1,000 (No wonder we switched to Arabic numbers when both M and K refer to the same figure!)
A non-committal sound made when someone doesn’t want to offer a concrete opinion: “Mmm…perhaps you’re right.”
Also used to denote extreme enjoyment of a taste: “Mmm…chocolate!”
Short form of woman’s name Emily.
A dash in printing where the line of type equals the width of the letter M.
Short form of the word “them”. “Put ‘em up, scumbag!”
A negative response, especially used in online forms or on written documents.
Commonly used in the combination names of low-rent establishments in a misguided effort to show down-home folksiness and camaraderie: Alice N Daisy’s Hair Emporium.
An expression of surprise or shock. “O, woe is me!”
Diminution of the name of a particular prominent and accomplished woman of colour.
Also the magazine she founded.
Prefix, meaning descendant, in Irish surnames: O’Rourke, O’Connor.
Often mistyped on keyboards in place of zero.
Blood type inherited from ancestral meat-eaters.
Derogatory suffix applied to certain unsavoury traits: wino, weirdo, sicko.
Denotes some time after high noon: P.M.
When used in combination with the word “mail”, it’s a message left by a dog for other dogs to read: P-mail.
A single long braid of hair, usually worn down the back.
Diminutive of the word “quart”, a measure of liquid, now out of use except in the United States.
A list of documents waiting to be printed which have a nasty habit of disappearing into cyberspace before they’re completed.
A long row of very impatient people lined up for a sporting event, entertainment or grocery checkout.
A French-Canadian term for a treasured part of the male anatomy.
Present tense plural form of verb 2B (not 2B confused with the pencil of the same name).
A guttural exclamation often attributed to pirates.
Diminutive used in texting when you can’t be bothered to write out the word “are”.
Doubled, it indicates a railway line on maps and GPS.
Designation for a movie you don’t want your kids to watch.
As an inhalation, it indicates a painful reaction.
Sound made by audiences at a pantomime when the villain comes on stage.
At the end of a word, indicates plural: houses, dogs.
Indicates possessive at the end of a name: John’s, (diminutive of “his”).
Contraction of is, has or does: “He’s got it. He’s just left.”
When added to a masculine profession or noun, indicates a feminine form: god/goddess, lion/lioness. (Although I’d really love to know where aviator/aviatrix comes in…a female aviator who’s really good at stunts?)
A nice cuppa.
A cheap shirt, usually short sleeved and often printed with graphics, captions or obscenities.
A little pointy thing which doesn’t always work, meant to hold golf balls off the ground.
And not him.
A place of higher learning.
The bend in the drain under the sink which always gets plugged up and costs a fortune when you have to call the plumber.
A flight of Canada Geese.
A neckline which is no longer flattering on a woman of a certain age.
Roman numeral for five. (Not to be confused with M, X or 1,000).
Used in place of the word “very” in hand-written letters and self-consciously mannered English novels, especially Victorian whodunnits.
Also in texts.
Interchangeable with U in ancient Latin inscriptions, to the consternation of many first-year Latin students.
Two female sheep.
Symbol for Tungsten on the Periodic Table of Elements.
Frequently mistaken for V by those whose first spoken language is Germanic: “Ve vent to the willage.”
A vote for your favourite politician.
An illiterate signature, indistinguishable from thousands exactly like it and so, essentially useless for identification.
Someone whom you previously loved to distraction but now can’t stand to have in the same room.
An indication of error or wrongness (see previous line).
Roman numeral for ten.
Axis on a graph.
Tripled, an indication of adult content, especially in films.
Also an indication of obesity in ladies’ clothing departments.
Impossible to know how to pronounce when used to begin a word.
A question requiring more information regarding cause or reason.
Axis on a graph at right angles to X.
Where you sign up when you want to get fit, but then you never actually go.
Used to diminutize the given names of recalcitrant children in a futile attempt to make them seem more approachable. Jenny, Bevvy, Johnny.
Used to adjectivize nouns: teary, chatty, lumpy.
Often used in place of X to cross out written sentences, especially by writers in a hurry.
The sign of Zorro.
Graphic depiction of lightning, possibly from the Greek god Zeus, bringer of thunder.
Confusing for Canadians, because we don’t know whether to use the British or American pronunciation.
Honestly, when even the individual letters are confusing for native English-speakers, is it any wonder that the language baffles newcomers?
Happy Writing! (and good luck!)