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Why do the nose and the letter N go together?  Well, of course, you need your nose to properly pronounce this letter. If you don’t believe me, either wait until you catch a bad cold, or close your nose with your fingers and pronounce something like ‘Nine nannies and nine nuns’. Together with its sister and neighbour M, N is the only nasal in English (and I can safely say in Italian too).

However, I might go as far as to say that, although M and N are almost twins and definitely sisters, N is a bit cooler. M is easy to pronounce, as it is formed by the lips, whereas N is heard when the tongue hits the hard palate.

So, now a bit of history about this cool geometric letter. N was actually invented by the Semitics or Egyptians by copying an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic picture of a snake. This is a bit confusing, as in the Phoenician alphabet the ancient nun meant ‘fish’, so nothing to do with a snake. In the ancient Semitic language, the word for snake was nahash, and this was probably what the letter was called at the beginning, since that term starts with N too. But later on, M and N were put one next to the other in the alphabet, as they were so similar. During the passing of time the shape of N started resembling more and more that of M and, in order to make it easier for the Semitic children to learn the alphabet, came to denote water (the M) and fish (the N), as they were easier associations to make than ‘water’ and ‘snake’.

N is quite a popular letter in the English alphabet. In printed English, it ranks 5th-6th among the most used letters, just behind E, T, A and O or I. In math, I am pretty sure that we have all seen the symbol n at least once. As in this equation 0 x n = 0, n indicates an indefinite number. In Italian, the symbol indicates Numero (number) and corresponds to the English Nr, but is used in addresses too, so it is often the case that you see something like Via Verdi N°3.

And finally, I have found a big N in the Italian translation of a recent film about Napoleon. Whereas the original title in English is Napoleon and me, the Italian version is N (io e Napoleone). Also, how can we forget the squashed N between 2 apostrophes as to replace and, such as in Grab’n’Go?

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