The Fifth Letter — E

There are lots of conflicting theories on the background of the letter ‘E’. In the Egyptian there is evidence that ’E’ began as a symbol for house, much like the letter ‘B’ and there does appear to be a similarity. The other theory is that the symbol is related to the Egyptian symbol for window. One last theory is that it is related to the Egyptian symbol for a shout of jubilation, and it is not hard to envision the outstretched arms as the basis for the letter ‘E’. The Phoenicians used this symbol for the sound ‘he’ which they considered a consonant (all of their 22 letters were symbols for consonant sounds).

When the Greeks adopted the ‘he’ sound they had difficulty in pronouncing the first part of the sound, and being practical people, they simply dropped the offending part, and ‘he’ became ‘ee’. The Greeks also found it useful as a vowel sound, and indeed, it is today the most commonly used vowel in the English language. Through the practice of flopping and turning the arms pointed right, and eventually it was named it epsilon, a symbol for the short ‘e’ sound.


 The “E” is normally drawn as a somewhat narrow letter. Its width, without serifs, is approximately one-half of its height. The middle horizontal stroke (or arm) is almost always drawn above the true center of the character. This gives the letter both balance and proportion. In some mannered designs, especially those with art nouveau overtones, the middle stroke is placed quite high.

The middle stroke is also normally the shortest of the three horizontals. The differences should be subtle (in many cases not even optically apparent), but the center stroke should be slightly shorter than the top, and the top not as long as the baseline stroke. Although not as obvious, these differences are also found in sans serif designs.

With credit to Allen Haley,
Upper & Lower Case magazine, a typographic centered publication last published from 1970 to 1999.

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