U is for Underpass

U of Ottawa underpass
This underpass is a pedestrian walkway.

History of the letter U

The Phoenician letter waw (Y), or “hook”, was one of the most variable, undergoing many mutations as it was adopted by various languages and cultures. This letter was the sixth in the alphabet and the origin in Greek of the letters digamma (F) and upsilon (Y), and in Latin of F and V. The letters U, W, and Y were also derived from it. Thus, waw became both a consonant and a vowel.

In Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac, the letter waw came to be written in different ways, as a single stroke or a little circle.

In Latin, a stemless waw (V) was used for the letters U and W. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the lower case letter v began to be rounded sometimes into a u. The capital U became accepted in the 1700s, especially in France.

There is still confusion over the pronunciation and usage of the waw-derived letters, especially in English words borrowed from other languages.

Some U words

cunning

sum

udder

ultimate

underneath

uniform

unusual

upper

urgent

user

Exercises

  1. Define each word in the lists, “Some U Words.” Identify each as a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb. Use each word in a sentence.

Special reading assignment

  1. An underpass is the space under a bridge of some sort, allowing traffic to go through. A long underpass may be called a “subway”, distinct from subway meaning “underground” or “tube” rail transport systems.
  2. Pedestrian underpasses are built where heavy foot traffic needs to avoid a major thoroughfare.

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in 2017.

B is for Bridge

This bridge spans the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada.
This bridge spans the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada.

The Letter B

B is a consonant and may be spelled, “bee”.

B is derived from the Greek letter beta and the Phoenician and Hebrew, beth. The original meaning of beth was “house”.

Beta means second. For example, the beta version of software is the next version, usually on trial and somewhat incomplete.

Silent Bs

Words with a silent b include

bdellium (a mineral), and subtle.

Words that end in bt

debt, doubt

Words that end in mb

bomb, climb, comb, crumb, door jamb, dumb, lamb, limb, numb, plumb, succumb, thumb, tomb, womb

Note that words ending in bt or mb keep the silent b, even with the addition of suffixes.

debtor, bomber, plumber

Exceptions

limber, timber [pronounce the b]