Wednesday, April 24, 2013

About the Wonderful Letter H

Lindy's posting of "Alphabet City" gave me yet another reason to love my new house, which is my delight in the letter "H" in the Latin alphabet.

When I began programming Postscript in graduate school, one of the challenges was to learn to "see" letters of all scripts as mere combinations of simple shapes. We used a system that classifies letters based on specific attributes, like whether the letter is made up of lines or circles or a combination of those, whether the shape is symmetric horizontally or vertically, its degree of angle, etc. In some ways such a system is similar to how we classify intervals in music as "perfect," "major," "minor," etc. The term "perfect" in music refers to an element of symmetry, not unlike the symmetry we've given a few of our language symbols.

Most letters are a combination of lines and curves. O falls into the "perfect" and "circle" groups -- actually, O is the quintessential perfect letter, completely symmetrical, since it doesn't matter how you turn it or flip it, it is always the same. X is the "perfect line" letter for the same reason. Two letters, uppercase H and I, which fall into the "line" and "right-angle" groups, are also perfectly symmetrical -- right-to-left and up-and-down, flip the letter either direction and it appears the same. H also makes a bed to sleep in, or builds a ladder to climb. And I (in its serif form, anyway) is H's complement, since if you flip H 90 degrees, it becomes an I.

It seems somehow significant that the two perfect letters X and O in the Latin alphabet are our symbols for love, and the two perfect right-angle line letters H and I spell our symbol for communication and friendship.

So I am thrilled to discover that my house's symbol is one of my favorite letters! If you consider O a musical perfect prime, X the perfect octave, I the perfect fourth, then I'll be living in a perfect fifth!

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