V or W
The origin of 'F' is the Semitic letter vâv (or waw) that represented a sound like /v/ or /w/. Graphically it originally probably depicted either a hook or a club. It may have been based on a comparable Egyptian hieroglyph such as that which represented the word mace (transliterated as ḥ(dj)):
The Phoenician form of the letter was adopted into Greek as a vowel, upsilon (which resembled its descendant 'Y' but was also the ancestor of the Roman letters 'U', 'V', and 'W'); and with another form, as a consonant, digamma, which resembled 'F', but indicated the pronunciation /w/, as in Phoenician. (After /w/ disappeared from Greek, digamma was used only as a numeral.)
In Etruscan, 'F' probably represented /w/, as in Greek, and the Etruscans formed the digraph 'FH' to represent /f/. When the Romans adopted the alphabet, they used 'V' (from Greek upsilon) to stand for /w/ as well as /u/, leaving 'F' available for /f/. (At that time, the Greek letter phi 'Φ' represented an aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive /pʰ/, though in Modern Greek it approximates the sound of /f/.) And so out of the various vav variants in the Mediterranean world, the letter F entered the Roman alphabet attached to a sound which its antecedents in Greek and Etruscan did not have. The Roman alphabet forms the basis of the alphabet used today for English and many other languages.
The lowercase ' f ' is not related to the visually similar long s, ' ſ ' (or medial s). The use of the long s largely died out by the beginning of the 19th century, mostly to prevent confusion with ' f ' when using a short mid-bar (see more at: S).
Use in writing systems
In the English writing system ⟨f⟩ is used to represent the sound //, the voiceless labiodental fricative. It is commonly doubled at the end of words. Exceptionally, it represents the voiced labiodental fricative // in the common word "of".
In the writing systems of other languages, ⟨f⟩ commonly represents /f/, [ɸ] or /v/.
- In French orthography, ⟨f⟩ is used to represent /f/. It may also be silent at the end of words.
- In Spanish orthography, ⟨f⟩ is used to represent /f/. In standard speech this is realized as [f] but a common nonstandard pronunciation is [ɸ]. It may merge with /x/ before /w/ in some dialects. See Spanish phonology.
- In the Hepburn romanization of Japanese, ⟨f⟩ is used to represent [ɸ]. This sound is usually considered to be an allophone of /h/, which is pronounced in different ways depending upon its context; Japanese /h/ is pronounced as [ɸ] before /u/.
- In Welsh orthography, ⟨f⟩ represents /v/ while ⟨ff⟩ represents /f/.
- In Slavic languages, ⟨f⟩ is used primarily in words of foreign (Greek, Latin, or Germanic) origin.
In English-language online slang, "F" (with the pronunciation spelling eff) is used as an initialism for fuck. (e.g. F U, meaning fuck you). The F-word refers to the word fuck itself.
Ancestors, descendants and siblings
- 𐤅: Semitic letter Waw, from which the following symbols originally derive
- Ϝ ϝ : Greek letter Digamma, from which F derives
- Y y : Latin letter Y, sharing its roots with F
- V v : Latin letter V, also sharing its roots with F
- U u : Latin letter U, which is descended from V
- W w : Latin letter W, also descended from V
- F with diacritics: Ƒ ƒ Ḟ ḟ
Ligatures and abbreviations
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER F||LATIN SMALL LETTER F|
|Numeric character reference||F||F||f||f|
- 1 Also for encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.
- Spelled eff as a verb
- "F", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); "ef", "eff", "bee" (under "bee eff"), op. cit.