The Twelveth Letter — L


The Phoenician letter lamed, meaning ox-goad, or at least that is one theory. In this position in the Egyptian hierogylphs this symbol meant cord, but the symbol was somewhat different as well. The phonetic symbol for ‘L’ was the recumbant lion. While it is hard to see how a pictograph of a lion turned into our ‘L’, it is not so hard when the Demotic script version is shown.

Demotic script really means the ‘people’s script’ because it was the common written language. The Rosetta stone provided the breakthrough in hieroglyph translation and the words Cleopatra and Ptolemy were two words that gave the key, and the “l” symbol was very important in both words.

Whether it’s roots lay in ox-goads or reclining lions, the resulting shape is one of the simplest after the letter ‘i’. The Romans named it labda they also used it in their numerical system having it stand for 50.

The “L” is a narrow letter, and virtually an “E” with the upper strokes removed. The horizontal stroke is approximately half the capital height, but in some designs it can be less. In most serif types the end of the horizontal strokes is terminated in a serif design which echoes the rest of the characters in the typeface. In other designs,it ends in what appears to be a brush stroke.

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

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