The Seventeenth Letter — Q

The Phoenicians called this letter “qoph” or “goph,” which meant “monkey.” Perhaps the symbol was the rear of a round little monkey-butt with a descending tail. There doesn’t appear to be an earlier letterform in the Semitic or Egyptian alphabets. It appears that the Phoenicians created this one on their own. The symbol stood for a guttural emphatic sound that isn’t used in Indo-European languages, so the Greeks borrowed it but changed the sound and changed the name to “koppa.” “Kappa” also had the same sound so one of the letters had to go and “koppa” left the Greek alphabet. The Etruscans had no difficulty having two symbols with the same sound and did one better by having a third symbol with the same sound. The Etruscans used “koppa” preceding the vowel “u”, a “c” followed by “e” and “I,” and “k” used before an “a.” The Romans adopted all the combinations.

The “Q” is not an “O” with a tail. It is an “O,” but the tail placement is a detailed assessment with a tremendous variety in hundreds of fonts. The tail placement and style is often the best clue in remembering the names of similar typestyles.

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

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