One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A letter which performs the function of a diacritical mark; (specifically in Hebrew writing) a consonantal sign which indicates that a vowel sound is to be supplied.
Mid 17th century; earliest use found in Brian Walton (1600–1661), bishop of Chester and biblicist. From post-classical Latin mater lectionis from classical Latin māter + lectiōnis, genitive singular of lectiō reading, probably after post-biblical Hebrew 'ēm (ha)qĕrī'āh, lit. ‘mother of the reading’.
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