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 ancestor to 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 as a numeral only.)
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).
Related letters and other similar characters
|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.
- Media related to F at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of F at Wiktionary
- The dictionary definition of f at Wiktionary
Letter F with diacritics