The ABCs of Color: The Letter A

The ABCs of Color: The Letter A


I'll tell you a secret—I can read words of one letter! Isn’t that grand? —The White Queen to Alice in Through the Looking Glass.

When the White Queen of Looking Glass fame bragged that she could read words of one letter, she beseeched Alice not to be discouraged, promising “You’ll come to it in time.” Indeed, the Queen’s one letter word vocabulary was more comprehensive than one might first assume. A word is any letter or group of letters which has meaning and is used as a unit of language. So even though there are only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, they stand for a thousand distinct units of meaning.

Because each letter of the alphabet is so extraordinarily expressive, it comes as no surprise that artists have named colors after individual letters. With a little help from the dictionary of One-Letter Words, we can illuminate the meanings of a spectrum of colours called "A."photo by cbcloveimg by cbclove. Cover image by pominoz.
aAaaAaaaaaAaaAaaaAaaaAaaaaaaAa

  1. n. a brassiere cup size. "Bust circumference is determined by measuring the circumference of the chest loosely with a tape around the fullest part of the breasts, usually at the level of the nipples, with the woman ordinarily wearing a bra. Cup size is then determined by comparing the bust circumference to the underbust plus five measurement. A difference of 1 inch equals an A cup, 2 inches a B cup, 3 inches a C cup, and so on. For example, a woman with a bust circumference of 36 inches and a band size of 34(underbust chest circumference or 29 + 5 inches) would be a B cup (36 - 34 = 2 inch difference = B cup)." Edward A. Pechter, MD, Breast Measurement.
  2. (in literature) Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter concerns a woman condemned to wear A (for the crime of adultery) embroidered on her breast. Any woman wearing such a letter was shunned by society. Here's what Hawthorne writes in the first chapter: "On the breast of her gown, in red cloth, surrounded with elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A." The description makes it seem beautiful—doesn't that make the symbolic meaning all the more serious and chilling?
  3. (in literature) "Do you know what A means, little Piglet? ... It means Learning, it means Education, it means all the things that you and Pooh haven't got." A. A. Milne, The World of Pooh.
  4. (in film) the title of a ten-minute short film from Germany, written and directed by Jan Lenica in 1965. The synopsis states: "A writer is persecuted by an enormous and abusive letter 'A.' Just as he thinks he has gotten rid of it, a giant 'B' appears."
  5. n. a standard, as in "A one." "Her gears being in / A 1 shape." E. E. Cummings, "she being Brand."
  6. n. a grade in school meaning superior. "The second skit [starring comedian Paul Lynde as an aging criminal who is heartbroken to learn his son is growing into a law-abiding honor student] included the funniest use of a single letter in film history: Lynde clutches his son's report card and, horrified at the academic excellence which will ultimately deny him an heir in his crime business, runs off-screen screaming aloud the boy's straight A grades, stretching the letter 'A' into a piercing wail of Greek tragedy proportions." Phil Hall, Film Threat. From a review of the 1954 musical-comedy film "New Faces."
  7. Vowel symbols were invented 5,000 years ago by the Sumerians (an ancient people of Mesopotamia). Their cuneiform writing was made up of pictures that represented syllables, but they had special characters for the vowels A, E, I, and U. But A traces its origins back to ancient Egypt, where it was symbolized by a picture of an eagle. Yet A started out as a consonant! Egyptian hieroglyphics did not have vowels—the eagle simply represented the A sound.
  8. n. any spoken sound represented by the letter. "The sound vibration of the vowel A means 'washing, purity, purification, purifying light.'" Joseph E. Rael, Tracks of Dancing Light: A Native American Approach to Understanding Your Name.
  9. n. a written representation of the letter. "[3-D graphic designer Peter Cho] points to a dancing A and challenges me to define the properties of this or any other letter. Cutting-edge technology allows us to give letters virtually any form, he says, but the brain somehow provides the mental ability to recognise a specific letter." Leo Gullbring, "The Rebirth of Space" in Frame Magazine.
  10. n. the sixth note in a C-major musical scale.
  11. n. the beginning, as in "From A to Z."
  12. n. the first letter of the alphabet. "A is the inside, as it were the origin and source from which the other letters flow, and likewise the final goal to which all the others flow back, as rivers flow into the ocean or into the great sea." Hermes, "Tractatus aureus" (Golden Treatise of Hermes).
  13. n. a precursor. "[A] feeling of timelessness, the feeling that what we know as time is only the result of a naïve faith in causality--the notion that A in the past caused B in the present, which will cause C in the future, when actually A, B, and C are all part of a pattern that can be truly understood only by opening the doors of perception and experiencing it... in this moment... this supreme moment... this kairos." Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
  14. n. a vitamin (retinol/carotene). "Vitamin A is particularly associated with eye health, because it protects the surface of the cornea. It is also essential for the development of bones, growth, and reproduction. It helps the body resist infection by protecting the linings of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts and maintains healthy skin and hair. Beta carotene (also known as pro vitamin A) is converted to vitamin A by the body. Unlike retinol, beta carotene is an antioxidant—a substance that protects the body against disease and premature aging by fighting the cell-damaging chemicals called free radicals. ... Good sources of vitamin A are liver and fish-liver oils, egg yolk, milk and dairy products, and margarine. Beta carotene is found in dark-green and deep-yellow fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, apricots, and spinach." American Medical Association.
  15. n. a blood type. "Genes for types A and B are dominant, and will always be expressed. Type O is recessive. A child who inherits one A and one O gene will be type A. Similarly, a child who inherits one B and one O gene will be type B. If both an A and a B gene are passed on, a child will be type AB. Only a child who inherits one O gene from each parent will be type O." Mayo Clinic.
  16. n. a person with type A blood. "If you are Type A ... and the meat you keep eating is not metabolizing, your bloodstream is now flooded with thick, sticky agglutinated blood, loaded with saturated animal fat, just looking for a nice spot to deposit itself. It doesn't take a genius IQ to see why As ... should not eat meat, and if they do, they die younger." Steven M. Weissberg, MD, InnerSelf Magazine.
  17. n. (biology) adenine, one of the four nitrogenous bases found in DNA nucleotides.
  18. n. (logic) the notation of a universal affirmative statement, such as "all humans are mammals." In categorical logic, the square of opposition describes the relationship between the universal affirmative A, the universal negative E, the particular affirmative I, and the particular negative O.
  19. n. (mathematics) a matrix. "The use of a single letter A to represent a matrix was crucial to the development of matrix algebra." Marie A. Vitulli, "A Brief History of Linear Algebra and Matrix Theory."
  20. One-letter words like "A" require a context in order to communicate meaning. "We must remember that for something to be information, there is a requirement: If the set of parts is quite short, it lacks complexity to be sure that it constitutes information. For example, if we had a one-letter word, then there could easily be a very good chance that the word may have arisen from a random choice of letters. In such an instance, we could not make a good case for proving that the small word is actually information that came from an intelligent source—because there is not enough complexity. Secondly, the length of the string of letters must be of sufficient length to perform the function of communication. For example, the letter "A" is a word, but without being part of a phrase or sentence, we have no assurance that it actually functions to communicate anything." R. Totten, A Mathematical Proof of Intelligent Design In Nature.

Craig ConleyAbout the Guest Author, Craig ConleyWebsite: h
ttp://www.OneLetterWords.com
Craig is an independent scholar and author of dozens of strange and unusual books, including a unicorn field guide and a dictionary of magic words. He also loves color: Prof. Oddfellow


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7 Comments
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fun!
Enjoyed the review of letter A. Would be interesting to learn what color most synethesists see A to be. (um..."A to be" - no pun intended there, really. If there were, that would have to be a different color.) ;)
this is very interesting. (:
That sign at the top of the article, the one which reads "THE LETTER A" is set in FHWA Alphabet Series C, one of a set of road sign fonts ranging from Series A, the narrowest, to Series F, the widest. Use of Series A was essentially discontinued quite early in the history of these fonts, because it was generally too narrow to be readable. New Zealand, however (one of many countries which have adopted the FHWA fonts for road signs) apparently still uses Series A on a few sign designs.

I just thought those observations were interesting and relevant, given the various letter-related connections.
I agree... fun and interesting!
Would be interesting to learn what color most synethesists see A to be.


I was hoping that the blog would cover that a bit, too, but since it didn't I'll fill in my part (I enjoy my synesthesia). "A" is a type of light cyan, maybe with a tinge of magenta (I work in the newspaper print world - sorry, no RGB values from me :)).

I sometimes find it hard to describe the colors. I see them, but the words aren't always there, and I'm always guessing. I've tried to sit down and nail them down on screen, but it just.. doesn't feel right.

-WFL
another great post, Professor.

aleph

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