One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A letter of the alphabet.
Old English; earliest use found in Cynewulf (fl. c975), poet. Cognate with or formed similarly to Old Dutch buokstaf letter of the alphabet, alphabet (Middle Dutch boecstaef, boecstave letter of the alphabet, (in plural) writing, literature, literacy, Dutch boekstaaf), Old Saxon bōkstaf letter of the alphabet (Middle Low German bōkstaf), Old High German buohstab letter of the alphabet, alphabet (Middle High German buochstap, buochstabe, German Buchstabe), Old Icelandic (in late sources) bókstafr letter of the alphabet, Old Swedish bokstaver (Swedish bokstaf), Old Danish bogstav (Danish bogstav) from the Germanic base of book + the Germanic base of staff, probably originally with reference to letters of the alphabet as used in books (i.e. the Roman alphabet as opposed to runic script), although see below for various alternative explanations for the semantic motivation.
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