Why Are There 2 Ways to Write the Lowercase Letter A?
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Fonts!
Call it the Parent Answer. Which is apropos given it’s directed at a question posted in Reddit’s Explain Like I’m Five community.
Reddit user MTC36 made a seemingly simple, straight-forward inquiry: Why is the lowercase ‘a’ we type different to the ‘α’ I write by hand? The ELI5 response? Because. It just happened.
It’s an unsatisfying answer, especially when movies and TV shows have programmed us to believe that whether it’s why Indiana Jones wears a fedora or how C3-PO was built, everything happens because of Important Reasons. (Life’s events are never, as the late-20th century philosopher Homer Simpson pointed out, “just a bunch of stuff that happened.”)
Ultimately, there is no singular, inciting event or decision, no defining secret origin that created two commonly accepted forms of the lowercase letter “a”—”a” and “α.” The forms developed along with the printed word, as manuscripts, books and other documents moved from being handwritten to being produced mechanically. All that happened over the slow march of time.