not a native letter in Old English; in Anglo-French words it represents the "ts" sound (as in Anglo-French fiz, from Latin filius, modern Fitz); from late 13c. it began to be used for the voiced "s" sound and had fully taken that role by 1400. For letter name, see zed.
Thou whoreson Zed, thou vnnecessary Letter. ["King Lear," II.ii.69]
Series of zs to represent a buzzing sound first attested 1852; zees "spell of sleep, a nap" is slang first recorded 1963, American English student slang.
12c., a shortening of Old English ic, the first person singular nominative pronoun, from Proto-Germanic *ek (source also of Old Frisian ik, Old Norse ek, Norwegian eg, Danish jeg, Old High German ih, German ich, Gothic ik), from PIE *eg- "I," nominative form of the first person singular pronoun (source also of Sanskrit aham, Hittite uk, Latin ego (source of French Je), Greek ego, Russian ja, Lithuanian aš).
Reduced to i by mid-12c. in northern England, later everywhere; the form ich or ik, especially before vowels, lingered in northern England until c. 1400 and survived in southern dialects until 18c. It began to be capitalized mid-13c. to mark it as a distinct word and avoid misreading in handwritten manuscripts.
The reason for writing I is ... the orthographic habit in the middle ages of using a 'long i' (that is, j or I) whenever the letter was isolated or formed the last letter of a group; the numeral 'one' was written j or I (and three iij, etc.), just as much as the pronoun. [Otto Jespersen, "Growth and Structure of the English Language," p.233]
The dot on the "small" letter -i- began to appear in 11c. Latin manuscripts to distinguish the letter from the stroke of another letter (such as -m- or -n-). Originally a diacritic, it was reduced to a dot with the introduction of Roman type fonts. The letter -y- also was written with a top dot in Old English and early Middle English, during the centuries when -i- tended to be written with a closed loop at the top and thus was almost indistinguishable from the lower-case thorn (þ). In names of U.S. highways (by 1966) it is short for Interstate (adj.).
eighth letter of the alphabet; it comes from Phoenician, via Greek and Latin. In Phoenician it originally had a rough guttural sound like German Reich or Scottish loch. In Greek at first it had the value of Modern English -h-, and with this value it passed into the Latin alphabet via Greek colonies in Italy. Subsequently in Greek it came to be used for a long "e" sound; the "h" sound being indicated by a fragment of the letter, which later was reduced to the aspiration mark.
In Germanic it was used for the voiceless breath sound when at the beginning of words, and in the middle or at the end of words for the rough guttural sound, which later came to be written -gh.
The sound became totally silent in Vulgar Latin and in the languages that emerged from it; thus the letter was omitted in Old French and Italian, but it was restored pedantically in French and Middle English spelling, and often later in English pronunciation. Thus Modern English has words ultimately from Latin with missing -h- (able, from Latin habile); with a silent -h- (heir, hour); with a formerly silent -h- now often vocalized (humble, humor, herb); and even a few with an unetymological -h- fitted in confusion to words that never had one (hostage, hermit). Relics of the formerly unvoiced -h- persist in pedantic insistence on an historical (object) and in obsolete mine host.
The pronunciation "aitch" was in Old French (ache "name of the letter H"), and is from a presumed Late Latin *accha (compare Italian effe, elle, emme), with the central sound approximating the rough, guttural value of the letter in Germanic. In earlier Latin the letter was called ha. The use in digraphs (as in -sh-, -th-) goes back to the ancient Greek alphabet, which used it in -ph-, -th-, -kh- until -H- took on the value of a long "e" and the digraphs acquired their own characters. The letter passed into Roman use before this evolution, and thus retained there more of its original Semitic value.
eleventh Roman letter, from Greek kappa, from Phoenician kaph or a similar Semitic source, said to mean literally "hollow of the hand" and to be so called for its shape.
Little used in classical Latin, which at an early age conformed most of its words (the exceptions had ritual importance) to a spelling using -c- (a character derived from Greek gamma). In Late Latin, pronunciation of -c- shifted (in the direction of "s"). Greek names brought into Latin also were regularized with a -c- spelling, and then underwent the Late Latin sound-shift; hence the modern pronunciation of Cyrus, Circe. To keep their pronunciation clear, the many Greek words (often Church words) that entered Latin after this shift tended to take Latin -k- for Greek kappa.
K- thus became a supplementary letter to -c- in Medieval Latin, used with Greek and foreign words. But most of the languages descended from Latin had little need of it, having evolved other solutions to the sound shifts.
K- also was scarce in Old English. After the Norman conquest, new scribal habits restricted -c- and expanded the use of -k-, which began to be common in English spelling from 13c. This probably was done because the sound value of -c- was evolving in French and the other letter was available to clearly mark the "k" sound for scribes working in English. For more, see C.
In words transliterated from Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Japanese, Hawaiian, etc., it represents several different sounds lumped. In modern use some of them are now with kh-; in older borrowings they often followed traditional English spelling and were written with a C- (Corea, Caaba, etc.).
As a symbol for potassium, it represents Latin kalium "potash." In CMYK as a color system for commercial printing it means "black" but seems to stand for key in a specialized printing sense. Slang meaning "one thousand dollars" is 1970s, from kilo-. K as a measure of capacity (especially in computer memory) meaning "one thousand" also is an abbreviation of kilo-.
As an indication of "strikeout" in baseball score-keeping it dates from 1874 and is said to represent the last letter of struck. The invention of the scorecard symbols is attributed to English-born U.S. newspaperman Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) principally of the old New York "Clipper," who had been writing baseball since 1858, and who explained it thus:
Smith was the first striker, and went out on three strikes, which is recorded by the figure "1" for the first out, and the letter K to indicate how put out, K being the last letter of the word "struck." The letter K is used in this instance as being easier to remember in connection with the word struck than S, the first letter, would be. [Henry Chadwick, "Chadwick's Base Ball Manual," London, 1874]
also V.I.P., 1933, initialism (acronym) for very important person or personage; not common until after World War II.
At most, the greatest persons, are but great wens, and excrescences; men of wit and delightfull conversation, but as moales for ornament, except they be so incorporated into the body of the world, that they contribute something to the sustentation of the whole. [John Donne, letter to Sir Henry Goodere, Sept. 1608]
10th letter of the English alphabet, pronounced "jay," as in "kay" for -k-, but formerly written out as jy, rhyming with -i- and corresponding to French ji.
One of the most stable English letters (it has almost always the same sound), it is a latecomer to the alphabet and originally had no sound value. The letter itself began as a scribal modification of Roman -i- in continental Medieval Latin. The scribes added a "hook" to small -i-, especially in the final position in a word or roman numeral, to distinguish it from the strokes of other letters. The dot on the -i- (and thus the -j-) and the capitalization of the pronoun I are other solutions to the same problems.
In English, -j- was used as a roman numeral throughout Middle English, but the letter -y- was used to spell words ending an "i" sound, so -j- was not needed to represent a sound. Instead, it was introduced into English c. 1600-1640 to take up the consonantal sound that had evolved from the Roman i- since Late Latin times. In Italian, g- was used to represent this, but in other languages j- took the job. This usage is attested earliest in Spanish, where it was in place before 1600.
No word beginning with J is of Old English derivation. [OED]
English dictionaries did not distinguish words beginning in -i- and -j- until 19c., and -j- formerly was skipped when letters were used to express serial order.
In Latin texts printed in modern times, -j- often is used to represent Latin -i- before -a-, -e-, -o-, -u- in the same syllable, which in Latin was sounded as the consonant in Modern English you, yam, etc., but the custom has been controversial among Latinists:
The character J, j, which represents the letter sound in some school-books, is an invention of the seventeenth century, and is not found in MSS., nor in the best texts of the Latin authors. [Lewis]
In English words from Hebrew, -j- represents yodh, which was equivalent to English consonantal y (hence hallelujah) but many of the Hebrew names later were conformed in sound to the modern -j- (compare Jesus).
proprietary name of a brand of canvas sneakers, 1917, registered by United States Rubber Co., N.Y. Based on Latin ped-, stem of pes "foot" (see foot (n.))
"We wanted to call it Peds, but ... it came too close to ... other brand names. So we batted it around for awhile and decided on the hardest-sounding letter in the alphabet, K, and called it Keds, that was in 1916." [J.Healey, in R.L. Cohen, "Footwear Industry," x.93]
first letter of the Roman alphabet, based on Greek alpha (see alpha). In music from c. 1600 as the name of the sixth note of the natural scale; it is the note given by a fixed-tone instrument (usually oboe or organ) to which all the instruments of an orchestra are tuned. As a blood type, 1926, denoting A agglutinogens. The A side of a two-sided record (by 1962, see side (n.)) held the material chosen for promotion. A-bomb, short for atom bomb, was in newspaper headlines by Aug. 8, 1945.
common conjoined prefix in Scottish and Irish names, from Old Celtic *makko-s "son." Cognate *makwos "son" produced Old Welsh map, Welsh mab, ap "son;" also probably cognate with Old English mago "son, attendant, servant," Old Norse mögr "son," Gothic magus "boy, servant," Old English mægð "maid" (see maiden).
Formerly often abbreviated to M' and followed by a capital letter, or spelled out Mac and then rarely used with a capital; as, M'Donald, Macdonald, McDonald.