Koppa (letter)

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Koppa or Qoppa (Ϙ, as a modern numeral sign: Greek Koppa lamedh-shaped.svg) is a letter that was used in early forms of the Greek alphabet, derived from Phoenician qoph Phoenician qoph.svg. It was originally used to denote the /k/ sound, but dropped out of use as an alphabetic character in favor of Kappa (Κ). It has remained in use as a numeral symbol (90) in the system of Greek numerals, although with a modified shape. Koppa is the source of Latin Q, as well as the Cyrillic numeral sign of the same name (Koppa).

Alphabetic Koppa

Corinthian stater. Obverse: Pegasus with koppa beneath, for Corinth. Reverse: Athena wearing Corinthian helmet.

In Phoenician, qoph was pronounced [q]; in Greek, which lacked such a sound, it was instead used for /k/ before back vowels, Ο, Υ and Ω. In this function, it was borrowed into the Italic alphabets and ultimately into Latin. However, as the sound /k/ had two redundant spellings, koppa was eventually replaced by kappa (Κ) in Greek. It remained in use as a letter in some Doric regions into the 5th century BC.[1] The koppa was used as a symbol for the city of Corinth, which had the early spelling of Ϙόρινθος.

Numeral Koppa

Koppa remained in use in the system of Milesian Greek numerals, where it had the value of 90. It has continued to be used in this function into modern times, though its shape has changed over time.[2] In the Greek cursive script, the Q-like shape with a closed circle on top (handwritten as Greek Koppa cursive 01.svg) was often broken up at the side (Greek Koppa cursive 02.svg) or at the top (Greek Koppa cursive 03.svg). These are also the shapes in which it was borrowed into the early Cyrillic alphabet (Ҁ), as well as into Gothic (Gothic numeral ninety.svg), in both cases with the same numeric function. In the Coptic script, the identical-looking sign ϥ is also used as a numeral for 90, although as an alphabetic letter it has an unrelated sound value, /f/, derived from Egyptian demotic. Later, in minuscule handwriting, the shape changed further into a simple zigzag line (Greek Koppa cursive 04.svg, Greek Koppa cursive 05.svg).

Example of a 19th-century font using S-shaped capital Stigma (first row) and G-shaped capital Koppa (second row).
Example of a 19th-century font using turned-lamedh-shaped capital Koppa and G-shaped capital Stigma.
Stigma and Koppa in modern fonts. Just as in historical typesetting practice, some versions of Stigma may be indistinguishable from some versions of Koppa.


Modern typography of the numeral Koppa has most often employed some version of the Z-shaped character. It may appear in several variants: as a simple geometrical lightning-bolt shape (Qoppa Z-shaped.svg); with the top part curved rightward, evoking to some degree the original uncial form (Greek Koppa cursive 05.svg); in a characteristic shape with a shorter top arm slightly curved to the left, resembling a Hebrew letter Lamedh (Greek Koppa lamedh-shaped.svg); or with the same lamedh shape turned upside down (Greek Koppa turned-lamedh.svg). Other variants common in older print include shapes based on the open uncial form (Greek Koppa cursive 02.svg, Koppa open.svg). Some of these shapes may be indistinguishable from realizations of the other Greek numeral, Stigma, in other fonts. Koppa has also sometimes been replaced by a lowercase Latin "q", a mirrored uppercase "P", or a "5" turned upside down.

As with the numeral usage of stigma (digamma) and Sampi, modern typographical practice normally does not observe a contrast between uppercase and lowercase forms for numeric koppa.[3]

Computer Encoding

The Unicode character encoding standard originally (since version 1.1 of 1993), had only a single codepoint for Koppa, which was marked as uppercase and could be used either for an epigraphic or a numeral glyph, depending on font design. A lowercase form was encoded in version 3.0 (1999).[4][2] A second pair of codepoints specifically for the original closed epigraphical shape was introduced in version 3.2 (2002).[4] This left the older two code points (U+03DE/U+03DF, Ϟϟ) to cover primarily the numeral glyphs.

As of 2010, coverage of these codepoints in common computer fonts is therefore still inconsistent: while the most commonly used version of the numeral glyph will be located at the lowercase code point U+03DF in recent fonts, older fonts may either have no character at all or a version of the closed epigraphic form at that position. Conversely, older fonts may have the numeral glyph at the uppercase codepoint, while this position may be filled with any of several less common glyphs in newer ones. Since there had never been a consistent typographic tradition for a specifically uppercase numeral koppa, the typographer Y, Haralambous proposed two new variants for it, Greek Koppa uc 01.svg and Greek Koppa uc 02.svg, noting that he himself found them not "entirely satisfactory".[5] A serifed version similar to his koppa was adopted as the reference glyph for the Unicode code charts, along with a lowercase form with heavy curved arms and pointed angles Greek Koppa lc curved.svg. Some current Unicode fonts have adopted these new shapes, while many font designers have opted for some combination of the more traditional glyphs, including the uncial and the lamedh-shaped ones.[6]

Character Ϟ ϟ Ϙ ϙ
Encodings decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 990 U+03DE 991 U+03DF 984 U+03D8 985 U+03D9
UTF-8 207 158 CF 9E 207 159 CF 9F 207 152 CF 98 207 153 CF 99
Numeric character reference Ϟ Ϟ ϟ ϟ Ϙ Ϙ ϙ ϙ


  1. ^ Woodard, Roger D. (1997). Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510520-6. 
  2. ^ a b Everson, Michael (1998). "On GREEK LETTER KOPPA" (PDF). 
  3. ^ Holton, David; Mackridge, Peter; Philippaki-Warburton, Irene (1997). Greek: a comprehensive grammar of the modern language. London: Routledge. p. 105. 
  4. ^ a b Unicode Consortium. "Unicode Character Database: Derived Property Data". Retrieved 2010-09-25. 
  5. ^ Haralambous, Yannis (1999). "From Unicode to typography, a case study: the Greek script" (PDF). 
  6. ^ Nicholas, Nick. "Numerals". Retrieved 2010-08-12. 

Further reading

  • Powell, Barry B. (1991). Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37157-0. 
  • Threatte, Leslie (1980). The Grammar of Attic Inscriptions. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-007344-7. 
  • Woodard, Roger D. (1997). Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510520-6. 

External links