Not one iota

The “I” is the skinniest and simplest letter in the English alphabet. It is one of the five main vowel letters, and also the fifth most common letter in the English language.

“I” can represent two main different sounds, either a “long” diphthong /aɪ/ as in mine or kite, or the “short”, /ɪ/ as in bill or tin. The short I is used in most European languages, whereas the long I pronounced as “ee” is more typical of English.

Where dId it come from?

In 1000 B.C Phoenicians called the letter “yod”, which was later copied and incorporated to the Hebrew alphabet. Greeks made the yod their I vowel, changed its name to iota. They also gave the letter a second meaning, small in size or the last element in a bigger group. This is where the phrase “not one iota” comes from, and the word “jot”, which was the translation of “iota” in the Bible of 1611. The letter was then copied by Etruscans (700 B.C.), by Romans (600 B.C.), and finally passed into the alphabets of modern European languages, like Spanish, French and finally English.

The lowercase i had originally no dot. Since it was too hard to distinguish on a page of handwriting, it was topped with a slanted mark, becoming í. With the spread of printing, the stroke was reduced to a simple dot, giving birth to the present “i” form. An exception occurs in the Turkish alphabet, which includes two different versions of the letter, one dotted and the other dotless.

The letter has recently become extremely popular in the marketing world. According to some designers, its meaning of “me” suggests to the customers the idea that they are in charge. It gives the product greater credibility. That is probably why someone decided on “I” as the name of a newspaper aimed at young people in UK.

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Also, the lowercase “i” has become synonymous with technology. You may have realised that there are more and more new products whose name starts with this letter. Mainly from Apple with their iPhone, iTablet, iPod, iMac and all the others that I can’t quite remember right now! There is even an online TV service called iPlayer, and plenty of other brand names. So nowadays, this single line topped off with a dot has become a marker of the digital world.