By betting on “Alphabet,” Google is relying on a word that we all learn as children but has only existed in English for about five centuries. In Old English, if you wanted to refer to the alphabet, you would use a word formed from the first four letters: “a-be-ce-de.” In Middle English this was shortened to “a-be-ce,” or as we would now spell it, “ABC.”I think the name "Google" is more clever, but we'll see.
Around 1500, when classical scholarship was all the rage, English borrowed the Latin “alphabetum,” which in turn came from the Greek “alphabetos,” derived from the names of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, “alpha” and “beta.”
Those names can trace their lineage back to the ancient Phoenician writing system. The “alpha” equivalent was shaped like a cow’s head, named after the Phoenician word for “ox.” Similarly, “beta” meant “house” and was shaped like one. In the alphabetic system, those characters came to stand for the initial sounds of the pictured words.
Friday, August 14, 2015
PHOENICIAN WATCH: ‘Alphabet,’ From Ancient Greece to Google. By betting on ‘Alphabet’ as the name for its new parent company, Google is relying on a word that has only existed in English for about five centuries (BEN ZIMMER, WSJ).