One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
The first letter of the Arabic and Persian alphabets, corresponding to Roman a, and having the form ا when written or printed. Compare "aleph". Also figurative and in figurative context (chiefly poetic).
Early 18th century; earliest use found in Thomas Salmon (d. 1767), historian and travel writer. From (i) Persian 'alif and its etymon (ii) Arabic 'alif, the name of the first letter in the Arabic alphabet, corresponding to Roman a, ultimately from Phoenician 'lp (probably ālep̄) aleph.
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