The Sixteenth Letter — P

The history of the letter “P” has basically two tracks, the Phoenicians called the letter “pe” meaning “mouth,” yet the letterform looked a little like an upside “J” or maybe a short cane. The Greeks had a letter shape that looked a little like our “P” but it was a symbol for the sound of the letter “R.” Confusing. The Greeks did have the “P” sound but they used an asymmetrical shape borrowed from the Phoenicians that looked a little like a long staple with one leg a little shorter than the other. Eventually they changed this asymmetrical shape into the “π” shape, and called it “pi.”

The Romans left this alone, and went back to a shape borrowed from the Etruscan that was similar to the early Phoenician. And thr Romans also produced the beautiful upper curve. 10% of our English language start with the letter “P.”

The “P” is a narrow letter that at first look resembles a B or R. It is not, however, an unfinished version of either letter. The loop of the “P” should swing lower, round slightly to the left, and begin to rise a little as it nears the main stroke. In the classic version the loop does not close with the stroke and leaves a small gap or space, reflecting it’s open ancestor.

The “P” is an elegant character that, no matter how the loop it structured, must be drawn carefully to ensure its optical stability and balance.

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

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