The Eighteenth Letter — R

The “R” sound in the Egyptian hieratic script was drawn like an open mouth. Our letter “R” doesn’t appear to have any connection with the Egyptian except that the letter form was called “ro”. It does have a stylistic heritage with the Phoenician sound of “R” which they called “resh” or “reza.” In fact, if you mirror-reverse the modern “R,” you can see the similarity to a pictograph of a left-facing head with a neck below. In Hebrew it is Rosh, meaning “head”, as ‘rosh hashanah’, head of the new year.

The Greeks adopted the letter, and called it “rho,” then further changed the letter until it looked almost like the letter “P.” When the Romans borrowed it, they went back to an earlier version and the end result was the graceful modern “R.”

The “R” is often called the hardest letter to design. The tail on classic fonts always joins the curve before the curve joins the vertical stroke.

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

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