Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z


397 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-676-97487-2
DDC 411





Reviewed by Naomi Brun

Naomi Brun is a freelance writer and a book reviewer for The Hamilton


When I first glanced at the cover of this volume, two questions
immediately came to mind. First, why would anyone want to devote 397
pages to a study of the alphabet, and second, what great mystery is the
title alluding to? After all, the alphabet is not generally considered
one of the world’s more fascinating topics. Many of us, in fact,
don’t give the alphabet a second thought after we learn our ABCs in
kindergarten. It simply exists in the background, providing the building
blocks of our language system but not deemed worthy of much
recognition—until now.

David Sacks challenges our initial disdain from the first page. His 26
chapters hook the reader by presenting the widely varying connotations
of each letter, then diving into its history, linguistic properties, and
comparative uses in different languages. Sacks tells us why A stands for
achievement, why E means entrepreneurial, and why X appeals particularly
to teenagers. A few more unfortunate letters, such as the lowly F, bring
failure and foul language to mind, perhaps in part due to F’s
fricative linguistic nature. Clearly there is more to the alphabet than
one might think.

Language Visible is a wonderful amalgam of phonetics, folklore, social
commentary, and historical development. Sack’s highly engaging dry wit
ensures that the book will be of interest both to the general public and
to language scholars.


Sacks, David., “Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024,