- the letters of a language in their customary order.
- any system of characters or signs with which a language is written: the Greek alphabet.
- any such system for representing the sounds of a language: the phonetic alphabet.
- first elements; basic facts; simplest rudiments: the alphabet of genetics.
- the alphabet, a system of writing, developed in the ancient Near East and transmitted from the northwest Semites to the Greeks, in which each symbol ideally represents one sound unit in the spoken language, and from which most alphabetical scripts are derived.
- a set of letters or other signs used in a writing system, usually arranged in a fixed order, each letter or sign being used to represent one or sometimes more than one phoneme in the language being transcribed
- any set of symbols or characters, esp one representing sounds of speech
- basic principles or rudiments, as of a subject
1570s, from Late Latin alphabetum (Tertullian), from Greek alphabetos, from alpha + beta. Alphabet soup first attested 1907. Words for it in Old English included stæfræw, literally “row of letters,” stæfrof “array of letters.”
It was a wise though a lazy cleric whom Luther mentions in his “Table Talk,”–the monk who, instead of reciting his breviary, used to run over the alphabet and then say, “O my God, take this alphabet, and put it together how you will.” [William S. Walsh, “Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities,” 1892]