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Interesting Words
Analphabetic • Noun

Pronunciation: æn-æl-fƏ-be-tik

The word analphabetic literally means “not alphabetical, without alphabetical order, in scrambled order.” However, over the ages it has come to mean “illiterate, without a writing system.”

As so many words ending on -ic, this word has an optional suffix -al, analphabetical, that must be used in the adverb, analphabetically. The assumption apparently has been that anyone without knowledge of an alphabet must be illiterate. However, Japanese and Chinese are analphabetic languages, but the speakers of these languages are highly literate. The Chinese writing system is based on logograms, symbols reflecting the meaning rather than the sound of words. Japanese use a syllabary with symbols expressing syllables (ra, ro, ru, ri, etc.) rather than single sounds.

Probably the most useful function of this word is as the antonym of alphabetical: “The names were categorized in analphabetic order based on their origin rather than spelling.” But this word is also a less well-known term expressing illiteracy, so you can say: “Tom sent us an almost analphabetic report,” even in Tom’s presence, unless he is a subscriber to our Good Word.

Alphabet comes from the name of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta. The Russian word with the same meaning is azbuka, based on the names of the first two letters of the Old Slavic language, az and buka. The Farsi (Persian) word is alefba based on the names of the first two letters in that language. Both Greek alpha and Semitic (Arabic and Hebrew) aleph come from the name of the first letter in the Phoenician alphabet, alf, which also meant “ox,” because it originated as a pictogram of an ox borrowed from Egyptian hieroglyphics. Greek beta and Hebrew beth come from the name of the second letter in the Phoenician alphabet, bet, which also meant “house” for similar reasons. The Phoenician alphabet became the source of all the alphabets of Europe (Indo-European) and the Middle East (Semitic), whether related or not.

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