Energetic, Ecstatic E

Published 2nd May 2011
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Energetic, Ecstatic E

We Anglophones make our E work hard for its money – it is the most-used letter in the English language. And it’s no surprise – the letter E represents around 15 different sounds in total. We use it differently from our European counterparts, however, and our long ‘ee’ sound is represented by the letter ‘I’ across the channel. Their long ‘E’ sounds more like ‘ay’.

The letter ‘e’ began its life as the Semitic letter ‘he’, which was written as a pictogram resembling a man shouting ‘hey!’, and actually held that same meaning. It was gradually adapted into an abstract form, until the Romans started using ‘epsilon’, which was the closest ancestor of our letter ‘e’.

One of the reasons for our ubiquitous ‘e’ is the reform of English spelling in the middle ages. In Old English, there was no way to distinguish between long and short vowel sounds, and so a silent ‘e’ was suffixed to many words, in order to signal that the first verb was elongated. For example, the word ‘wife’ was originally spelled ‘wif’. It was pronounced the same then as it is now, but if we were to pronounce the word according to its former spelling, it would probably sound more like ‘whiff’. Good luck introducing your ‘whiff’ in polite company…

E=Mc2

‘E’ plays an important role in science, and even appears in Albert Einstein’s most famous equation E=MC2, in which it represents energy. It didn’t just get its connotations of energy from Einstein, though. ‘E’ is also one of the street names for the illegal stimulant known as ecstasy, which (as suggested by the name) produces feelings of ecstasy, along with a surplus of energy.

In recent years, the letter ‘E’ (for ‘elecronic’) has also become synonymous with the internet and technology. Just try prefixing ‘e-’ to any of the following words, and you’ll see what I mean: mail, commerce, book. However a certain gadget giant seems to be trying to change this to the letter ‘i’, so this might not always be the case!

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