Posts Tagged ‘one-letter words’

One-Letter Words: A Dictionary

Craig Conley

New York: Harper Collins, 2005.

Not a joke.  I found this on the shelf in the bookstore when I was looking at other dictionaries.  You can explore it online.

There’s not an awful lot to say about one-letter words, except that there are more than 1000 of them.  Many have to do with Roman numerals, music and science, but a fair few have some surprising definitions. 

By far the most interesting to me were these ghoulish definitions: 

You know the expression, “branded a thief”?  To the extent that I had ever thought about it, I’d assumed the phrase was metaphorical.  It’s not.  Until 1827 in America, thieves were, literally, branded on the thumb with the letter T.

And that is not all.  Humans have a long history of shaming and harming each other with branded or incised letters, apparently.

In Colonial America, drunkards were forced to wear the letter D, made of red cloth and sewn onto a white ground, so A is not the only scarlet letter.  Civil War deserters were branded with the letter D, as well, on the buttock, hip or cheek.  The letter was made with a hot iron or a razor.

Until 1822, the letter F (for “fray-maker”) was branded on the cheeks of people who fought in church.  Blasphemers were branded on the forehead with the letter B.

The ancient Romans branded false accusers with a K (for kalumnia, lie), and in England, R was used as a mark for rogues.

And on that cheerful note, I end my month of looking at dictionaries.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

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