All Rise for the Letter A!

#60 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

Any poet who so jubilantly sings the praises of the letter A is a poet after my own heart. 

from Alphabet by Paul Thurlby (2011)
by Darren Sardelli

The letter A is awesome!
It's arguably the best.
Without an A, you could not get
an A+ on a test.
You’d never see an acrobat
or eat an apple pie.
You couldn’t be an astronaut
or kiss your aunt goodbye.
An antelope would not exist.
An ape would be unknown.
You’d never hear a person
say “Afraid” or “All Alone”.
The A’s in avocado
would completely disappear
and certain words would be forgot
like “ankle”, “arm”, and “ear”.

Without the A, you couldn’t aim
an arrow in the air.
You wouldn’t ask for apricots
or almonds at a fair.
Aruba and Australia
would be missing from a map.
You’d never use an ATM,
an apron, or an app.
The arctic fox and aardvark
would be absent from the zoo,
and vowels, as you know them,
would be E, I, O, and U.
There wouldn’t be an A chord
on the instruments you play.
Let’s appreciate, admire,
and applaud the letter A!

~ Reprinted from Blast Off! (The School Magazine, 2016), posted by permission of the author.

How fun to consider some of the marvelous things we’d miss in the absence of A!

Like Darren, I agree that this amazing letter certainly deserves our wild applause, appreciation and adulation at every turn. Easily the “doorway to literacy,” no other letter has enjoyed such rich symbolic value.

by Olive Loaf Design

Eager A is primo supremo, top of the roster, the first letter of the alphabet we learn as kids. From the very onset of our literate lives, we learn A = first rate.

Most modern alphabets, dating back thousands of years to the Egyptians and Phoenicians, begin with the letter A. It’s always been associated with excellence, fundamentals and beginnings, enjoying a degree of first class status no other letter can even come close to matching.

So I wonder: could A have a superiority complex?

It’s hard not to get big headed when everyone in school longs to see your likeness on exam papers and report cards, or when you’re a coveted symbol of quality assurance. 

When the Department of Agriculture, who inspects and grades foods for human consumption, slaps a shiny USDA GRADE A shield sticker on a tray of prime or choice beef, you know you’ve arrived, as you represent top quality in tenderness, flavor, appearance, and uniformity.

Everyone in the grocery store looks for you, wants you, feels better about drinking that carton of milk or scarfing down those eggs that proudly proclaim, “Grade A.” You’re tippy top! Does this degree of desirability ensure a crack-proof eggo ego? 🙂

The letter A also signals “top service” in commerce and name branding. ‘AAA Electric,’ for example, is easy to remember, suggests no risk for the customer, and has the advantage of being listed first in the yellow pages. The American Automobile Association (AAA) sells itself on a tradition of reliability.

Did you know the expression “A-1” dates back to British nautical language of the early 1800s? In registering ships, the maritime insurer Lloyds of London would use notations A or B to rate the condition of ships’ hulls, and notations 1 or 2 to rate ships’ equipment. Only the most shipshape vessels earned the distinction of “A-1.”  *sail away with me*

In no time at all, spiffy A-1 spread to popular use on both sides of the Atlantic, largely losing its nautical reference. Now it’s the brand name for everything from steak sauce to banana chips, and there seems to be a plethora of automotive businesses called A-1.

And what about “A-okay”? This expression has an interesting backstory: on the first manned suborbital NASA spaceflight, a simple “okay” from Alan Shepard was misheard and misreported over radio communications as “A-okay.” That one caught on quickly too. Few of us can remember a time when either A-1 or A-okay wasn’t a natural part of our vocabularies.

Maybe a superiority complex goes hand in hand with snob appeal. Consider “A-List.” It was first used to unofficially rank the 75 most bankable movie stars in the 1980s, i.e., the “Hollywood A-List,” but of course, now the term can be applied to any select group, the crème de la crème. Ahem. *nose in the air*

A also holds the enviable status of being a vowel letter, representing one of only five (if you don’t count “y”) speech sounds that are open and produced without friction in the vocal tract.

Mischievous, versatile A likes to keep us on our toes with about a dozen possible sounds. How many do you detect in this sentence?

Adrian saw Pa’s apple banana cake package.

Though the A in apple is our usual short A, the slightly different A in “Pa” is A’s normal pronunciation in most other European languages. It was also thought to have been A’s pronunciation in the ancient European tongues Greek, Etruscan, and Latin.

So that “ah” sound is fundamental to human speech, deemed by alphabet scholar David Diringer to be the “purest and simplest vocalic sound, as uttered by opening the air passage of the throat to its fullest extent.” It is thus the most primitive sound, as well as the first sound uttered by a baby. Wow.

Say it again: “ah” *cuddle*

My Own ABC Book by Lois Lenski (1922)
from My Own ABC Book by Lois Lenski

Leave it up to good old A to deliver such an essential sound! *big head big head*

Lest we assume A comes in first for all things, we should mention that it actually rates third — *wide eyed astonishment* — when it comes to frequency of use in printed English, lagging behind E and T. 

And, *brace yourselves* — there’s that unfortunate little matter of A being associated with adultery throughout history. It was considered a criminal offense in Medieval Europe and Puritan England, punishable by flogging or having to wear a humiliating A or AD badge in public. Poor Hester Prynne!

Despite these two drawbacks, proud, defiant, peerless A retains its sterling reputation in the toniest alphabet circles, always in demand, always revered for its ability to symbolize all 26 members of the family. The mere existence of E and T, along with the slightest whiff of impropriety while wearing red, keeps A in check, sans superiority complex.

Getting back to the poem, for some reason I can’t stop thinking about APPLE PIE, and neither could ABC practitioners of yore. I’ve always loved the 17th century English alphabet rhyme, A Apple Pie, illustrated by Kate Greenaway (1886) and later by Gennady Spirin (2005). Seems smart people were always keen to tout A’s deliciousness when it came to helping children learn their ABCs. 🙂

Yum, Yum, Apple Pie. Whatever shall we do now?


*thunderous applause*

nom nom nom nom nom nom nom nom nom nom nom nom


Lovely and talented Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at TeacherDance. Waltz on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Have a spooky and spectacular Halloween weekend!


Certified authentic alphabetica. Made by hand just for you with love and apple pie.

*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

38 thoughts on “All Rise for the Letter A!

  1. YUM! Apple pie for breakfast is my favorite! I love Mr. Cornelius peeking out of that lower case “a”. So cute. That could be it’s own print for sale. And, do my eyes deceive me or is that ancient Egyptian, Phonecian writing…of an Ox that turned into a letter A? I need to know more! Hamish would love that. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your eyes are not deceiving you. Apparently the ancient Egyptians’ ox pictograph/hieroglyphic is part of A’s heritage. Hamish should be proud that he started it all! 🙂


  2. I love your deep dives! Lois Lenski was my favorite illustrator as a child-remember Cotton in Her Sack? I still have those novels. Plus both our names would suffer greatly without As.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Lois Lenski — such an essential part of my childhood. Yes, and thank goodness for A’s, or we would be Shley Wolff and Jm Rttign :D.


  3. I made an apple pie last week, a favorite, besides chocolate! And this is an A-list post, Jama! I am now more educated than ever about the letter A from my first and last name! I like it all, especially your own “A” pics with Mr. Cornelius. Have an AdorAble finAl weekend of October.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How funny that we both remembered Hester this week! I love that illustration – the embroidery all thread-raveling and judgy, even though IT, too, is clearly imperfect… Also, what a great bit of Phoenician history as well – how fun to know the A was once an ox-head or something. I’m always a sucker for learning the backstory on something. A1 Sauce! Grade A eggs! I love these posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s fun to research alphabet backstories. I’ve always thought each letter has its own personality based on its origin and use throughout history.


    1. A deserves a lot of credit, but as I noted, it must be kept in check. Being first and foremost all the time can go to one’s head. 😀


  5. Amazing: so much to learn about a letter we take for granted! You post last week inspired me to make apple tarts (yum, thank you, hubby thanks you). Maybe I’ll try apple pie this week!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you made some apple tarts. ‘Tis the season for apple pie too. And I know you make a good apple crisp. So many apples, so little time . . .


  6. Your pie is mouth watering delish, and alas it’s a la mode–along with this aaahhh wonderful review of letter ” A” ! Where would we be if we couldn’t have a few ah ha moments every once in a while. Love the early alphabet A’s, and the art of the eggs too–lots of smiles all around. Absolutely top A+++ post, thanks Jama!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Michelle. Glad you found this post interesting. Love your mention of “ah ha” moments! Without A, we’d only be sitting around with h h . . . 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m thinking — who could write a “Lipogram in A”? (A lipogram is a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting of writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is avoided.”– Wikipedia). Even though “E” is more common, I think it’s easier to omit all words with E in them. I kept thinking of this throughout your fantastic collection of As.

    best… mae at (without “a” I would just be me)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting observation, Mae. It would be harder without A, I agree, because by itself, “A” is also a word, whereas “E” can’t stand alone.


  8. Well now I really want a piece of apple pie! Thanks for this tour of the history of the letter A. It was interesting and entertaining!

    Liked by 1 person

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