Thursday, June 21, 2012

Secret Origins: K

The symbol K has a pretty straight forward history. We got it from the Romans, who used it—sometimes—in their Latin language. They got it from the Greeks, where in its lowercase form it was κ and its uppercase is indistinguishable from ours. It can also be seen in Hebrew as כ. Slightly different, but K was often written backwards and if you take of the vertical slash it resembles kaph somewhat. Both kaph and kappa come from the proto-Sinaitic kappu. If you look at the alphabet.gif, you can see the origins of K in there.

From the origins of our Latin based writing system, K was in competition with C. The Romans preferred to use the latter and as you know, pretty much anything the Romans did stuck. You might not remember this from when I went over C’s history (over a year ago! Wow!), but the influence of the Irish language involved consonants with different pronunciations based on what vowel follows. We kind of kept that with C. After e and i (and y), it’s almost always “suh”; after a, o and u, it’s “k”. The main reason K is used is to put the “kuh” sound in front of e and i, as in the words keep and kit.

So K is our backup C. It handles the words C can’t because it doesn’t go soft in front of e and i.



  1. OK, so K does have a purpose.

  2. Wow. A blog that regularly features etymology. I know that in the King James Version of the Bible, "beeves" means "cattle." Do you know if it's the plural of "beef"? Thanks.

  3. And then of course there's all the silent K words....


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