Alphabet Sentences

By A. S. Osley
Date Added: 17/07/2009


In JOURNAL Nos. 76 and 77, members contributed some examples of alphabet sentences, i.e. short, complete sentences which contain every letter of the alphabet. The idea is, of course, a very old one, going back no doubt into classical antiquity. As might be expected, the writing-masters of the sixteenth century and after used the device for teaching. One of the favourite sentences of this kind was the following:

Gaza frequens libycum ducit Karthago triumphum

This sentence is crisp; it makes sense; and it is a sound Latin hexameter verse. It includes all the letters of the Latin alphabet. Strictly speaking, K is a Greek letter, but the Romans found it convenient to use in certain contexts. The sentence occurs in Pedro Madariaga's manual of 1565 Honra de Escribaiios, and in Le Gangneur's Rizographie (1599). Over two hundred years later, the Spanish writing-master Palomares devoted two pages to it in his Arte Nueva de Escribir of 1776 (see illustration). It can also be seen in the Arte de Escribir (1789) ofEstevan Ximenez, a disciple of Palomares, and probably occurs elsewhere. Ximenez gives a second alphabet sentence:

Duc, Zephyre, exurgens tumidum cum flatibus equor

This, again, is a Latin hexameter.