Entries linking to aleph
indefinite article, the form of an used before consonants, mid-12c., a weakened form of Old English an "one" (see an). The disappearance of the -n- before consonants was mostly complete by mid-14c. After c. 1600 the -n- also began to vanish before words beginning with a sounded -h-; it still is retained by many writers before unaccented syllables in h- or (e)u- but is now no longer normally spoken as such. The -n- also lingered (especially in southern England dialect) before -w- and -y- through 15c.
It also is used before nouns of singular number and a few plural nouns when few or great many is interposed.
It also is attested from early 15c. in a sense of "learning or lore acquired through reading." Words for it in Old English included stæfræw, literally "row of letters," stæfrof "array of letters," and compare ABC.
It was a wise though a lazy cleric whom Luther mentions in his "Table Talk,"—the monk who, instead of reciting his breviary, used to run over the alphabet and then say, "O my God, take this alphabet, and put it together how you will." [William S. Walsh, "Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities," 1892]
Alphabet soup is attested by 1907.
c. 1300, from Latin alpha, from Greek alpha, from Hebrew or Phoenician aleph (see aleph). The Greeks added -a because Greek words cannot end in most consonants.
The sense of "beginning" of anything is from late 14c., and in this it is often paired with omega (the last letter in the Greek alphabet, representing "the end"). The sense of "first in a sequence" is from 1620s. In astronomy, the designation of the brightest star of each constellation (the use of Greek letters in star names began with Bayer's atlas in 1603). Alpha male was in use by c. 1960 among scientists studying animals; applied to humans in society from c. 1992.
updated on December 10, 2016