Why are the ABCs in Alphabetical Order?

My sister is pretty awesome. She’s smart, too. I love how she always comes up with the most random questions which we discuss until either we find an answer, or resort to researching the answer.

Today, we were in the car and she says, “I wonder who decided to put the alphabet in that specific order?”

I’ve never thought about it before… We talked about the Greek alphabet and the printing press and made a few speculations. We talked about the QWERTY keyboard and typewriters. Still, the question remained: Why are the ABCs the ABCs?  Was it a popularity contest? Most used letters get the front and the rest of them were kicked to the back? Was there an epic battle between monks as they wrote the letters on scrolls? Did they ever disagree on which order was best? I imagined two, big-bellied, Friar Tucks grappling on the floor over which should come first: G or J.

Since neither of us could come up with a reasonable explanation, the conversation waned. As we neared our destination, I thought out loud (I do that often) that I still needed to figure out a blog for today. She shrugged and said to find out the answer about the ABCs. YEAH!  People need to know this stuff!

So I did what any red-blooded American girl would do: I Googled it.

Most of the results I found were people with the same question as us.  LOTS of wiki answers and Yahoo answers and such. i.e. Really credible sources. (“That was sarcasm, wasn’t it?” Yes, Sheldon Cooper, it was). One person actually responded that it was because of the alphabet song… wow.

I finally found an English forum in which people actually cited real sources. Huzzah!

Unfortunately, the answer is kind of boring… apparently that was just the way it has always been. That’s how the Hebrews and Phoenicians did it, and the Romans took it and added and subtracted a few letters, and that’s just how they did it, and eventually the English language did the same thing. What a bunch of sheep!

I did think that it was interesting that the first example of the alphabet being spelled out as it currently is (Jessica Joke) is  the first dictionary, published in 1604. Check it out:

ROBERT CAWDREY’S
A TABLE ALPHABETICAL (1604)
“If thou be desirous (gentle Reader) right-
ly and readily to vnderstand, and to profit
by this Table, and such like, then thou must
learne the Alphabet, to wit, the order of the
Letters as they stand, perfecty without
booke, and where euery Letter standeth: as
(b) neere the beginning, (n) about the mid-
dest, and (t) toward the end. Nowe if the
word, which thou art desirous to finde, be-
gin with (a) then looke in the beginning of
this Table, but if with (v *) looke towards
the end. Againe, if thy word beginne with
(ca) looke in the beginning of the letter (c)
but if with (cu) then looke toward the end
of that letter. And so of all the rest. &c.
Which is reminder, in case anyone needs it, that it is possible to learn to read yet not know the order of the alphabet (or even the names of the letters).”

Neat, huh? Yeah… you’re welcome. I looked that up for YOU, dear readers! …and for my sister. Hooray, learning!

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