Red Letter Day: Danish Alphologists Discover the 27th Letter of the Alphabet

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DENMARK: Alphologists at the University of Billund, Denmark have announced the dis­cov­ery of the 27th let­ter of the English Alphabet. The let­ter, which has yet to be named, was uncovered dur­ing lib­rary renov­a­tions over the Easter Break. Professor Olaf Proil who iden­ti­fied the let­ter said the dis­cov­ery was a com­plete sur­prise:

Alphologists think there are plenty of let­ters wait­ing to be dis­covered, but that most of these lie out in the far reaches of the alpha­bet, far bey­ond the punc­tu­ation marks and the sym­bols you get on cell­phones. What is so sur­pris­ing is that this let­ter is near the middle of the alpha­bet, between Q and R. It is an extremely small let­ter, which may explain why no-one had noticed it before. We think it may have been hid­den behind the tail, or pesce which comes out of the Q.”


The site of the pro­posed miss­ing let­ter.
© Olaf Proil, Pål Foilor, University of Billund

The find is set to be con­tro­ver­sial when it is presen­ted at the International Alphological Union next month. One pro­fessor has already dis­missed the new let­ter.

We get this kind of head­line every few years and each time it’s proven to be non­sense. It’s almost cer­tainly a vari­ant of another let­ter, just like there are two vari­ants of writ­ing a lower-case A. This was settled a couple of years ago when the IAU elec­ted to des­ig­nate such things as dwarf letters.”

History will prove me right

Proil nev­er­the­less claims there is his­tor­ical proof this is indeed a miss­ing let­ter.

There’s clear evid­ence that this let­ter dates back to the Dark Ages. A close exam­in­a­tion of A History of England by the Venerable Bede shows there are ele­ments miss­ing from the page. Previously his­tor­i­ans have argued these were spaces, or pos­sibly that he’d for­got­ten to dip his quill in the ink. Documented Viking raids on Lindisfarne, the mon­as­tery where the Vulnerable Bede wrote his his­tory, could well have taken the let­ter back to Denmark as booty along with the gold and jewels.”

Proil spec­u­lates that the let­ter could be even older:

We have ref­er­ences to Celtic texts in Roman his­tor­ies, but so far all Celtic mater­ial seems to use the Roman Alphabet which was imposed on them when the emperor Maximus invaded their ter­rit­ory. It is pos­sible some Celtic let­ters were smuggled to Britain dur­ing the Roman inva­sion and hid­den from the con­quer­ors. We need to carbon-date it, but we may have the first pre­his­toric letter.”

Media Controversy

Dr. Pål Foilor who has assisted Prof. Proil in his work admits that there have been prob­lems in announ­cing the let­ter to the pub­lic.

My first reac­tion was email all my friends with the excit­ing news. That’s when I real­ised I couldn’t, because the let­ter wasn’t on my keyboard!”

Foilor has been work­ing with Compaq to pro­duce a down­load­able ver­sion of the let­ter which users will be able to type by press­ing Q and R similtan­eously.

“Compaq are the obvi­ous choice for any com­put­ing work requir­ing heavy-duty lex­ico­graphy. They’ve been safely using a ‘q’ without a ‘u’ buf­fer on their products for years. The sav­ing by using Compaq makes it 14% more eco-friendly than Compaqu. That’s the kind of expert­ise we need in repro­du­cing the new letter.”

Rude WordsNot every­one has been so pos­it­ive. Major cell­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers are skep­tical about the new letter’s use. Avril Poisson of the American Cellphone Federation said:

While new let­ters might seem like fun, we shouldn’t for­get there’s a cost too. The num­ber 7 on cell­phones already hosts P,Q, R and S. Adding a new let­ter between Q and R could over­load the key and mean we lose the use of 7, which is the world’s luck­i­est number.”

Family groups have also urged cau­tion, not­ing that the new let­ter might be used to pro­mote drugs, por­no­graphy and women’s rights. Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League, is said to be angry — though exper­i­enced Donahologists are as yet uncer­tain if this is about the letter.

Nonetheless Prof Proil says that he is look­ing for­ward to the unveil­ing of the let­ter at noon. “While the let­ter is tiny, the pos­sib­il­it­ies are huge, I think its small size could make it par­tic­u­larly use­ful when describ­ing sub-atomic particles.”

The Discovery Channel will be cov­er­ing the event live in their pro­gram “The Lost Letter”.

Other pro­grams cov­er­ing the let­ter in the fol­low­ing week will be a BBC Horizon Special and the History Channel’s “The Secret Letter of the Third Reich.”

[Compiled from a press release by the University of Billund and stor­ies around the web]