Thursday, June 09, 2005


That last entry was a little too much like work. A mix of Too Much Information with Too Little Information. However, it is not as if I haven't been asked about Cangjie input before. Nevertheless, I need to serve myself desert.

David Sacks' abecedarium follows a long line of predecessors. In 1905, Hubert Skinner wrote The Story of the Letters and Figures. This book is less than scintillating and will not likely be reprinted soon but his chapter on T is small enough and unusual enough to make it worth preserving.

The last of the twenty-two letters of the old Phoenician
alphabet was called Tav (tahv). It was in the form of a
cross, such as is sometimes made in our day by persons
who are unable to write.

The word meant, originally, simply a mark, or sign for
identification, and was used as such in ancient times.

The man who was unable to write was at least able to
"make his mark" in lieu of a signature. Marks were also
placed upon camels and other beasts, to indicate
ownership: and whatever their form, they were
described generally by the name of this letter.

Tav was formed thus.
(the small letter 't' in comic
sans would be closest)

Its sound was a softened T, differing slightly from
the sound of Teth-the basket.

From this letter the Greeks derived their Tau, τ
which became the T of the Latin alphabet and of
our own. The only alteration the letter has
undergone has been the raising of the cross bar.
Probably this was effected gradually and almost

Schoolboys who mark a "taw" for their games do
not imagine how old a word they are using. For
how many centuries have boys handed down
the ancient name of this letter, or "mark"with a
slight change in the sound of its name! Phoenician
boys, Greek boys, Roman boys, Saxon boys, and
American boys, have shown that boyhood is the
same, the world over.

I have heard of a marble being called a taw but I have never heard of a mark made in a game being called a taw. I hope some day someone will post a comment and expand on this.


Blogger language said...

It's the same word, and Skinner's etymology appears to be wrong. The OED says: "Origin unascertained, and order of senses uncertain: perh., like alley, ALLY n.2, an abbreviation." The senses are:
A large choice or fancy marble, often streaked or variegated, being that with which the player shoots.
A game played with such marbles.
The line from which the players shoot in playing the game.

They all go back to the early 18th century; presumably if they really came from the letter name they'd be much older.


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