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Stories from a life in progress.

All so arbitrary

I'm over halfway through the Greek alphabet now (still working on the small letters).

By this point I've had plenty of opportunity to trip over the vagaries of this new-to-me alphabetical system.  Parts of it are reassuringly familiar.  I can forgive "i" for missing a dot and "a" for its swoopiness (it's kind of charming, actually) and "b" for looking like its capital version and having an extra tail.  The "k" is nearly its old familiar self, just short, and even with a crick in its back the "d" is not too hard to recognize.

Because some letter shapes are so familiar, the unfamiliar shapes become even more baffling.  I have no idea what the inventor of the squiggle that means "z" was thinking, but apparently they thought it was a good idea because they added an extra loop and used it for "x" too.  But those aren't nearly as bad as the familiar shapes which mean something completely different than I expect them to.  There's a Greek letter "e" which looks like an "e," but there's a second Greek "e" which looks like an "n".  The thing that looks like "y" is actually "g", and the thing that looks like "u" is actually "m", and who on earth thought it was a good idea for "n" to look like a "v"?

I mean, come on, Greek.  Why are you so random?  Why are your assignments of shape to sound so completely arbitrary?

It takes an effort to remember that English is no less arbitrary in its assignment of shapes to sounds; there is no inherent, built-in justification for the squiggles in my own alphabet.  Just because I can't remember a time when I didn't recognize these dear old English letters, or when I didn't automatically read every English word on sight, doesn't make my familiar letter-squiggles RIGHT.  It just means they are really, really familiar.

When we get so familiar and comfortable with something that we can't ever remember it being a different way, it is very easy to cross over into thinking that thing is RIGHT instead of just arbitrary-but-familiar.  It's not a bad lesson to be reminded of.