481: Alpha to Omega by Alexander & Nicholas Humez

481.1: Humez, Alexander & Nicholas Humez. Alpha to Omega: The Life & Times of the Greek Alphabet. Boston, MA: David R. Godine, 1983. 188 pp. ISBN 0-87923-461-X.

The Dewey system favors Western hemisphere and European cultures. In that vein, the 400s (Language and linguistics) honor general works in the 400s and 410s, then English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Greek through the 480s. Everybody else gets stuck in the 490s. Today’s book is about Greek writing systems, so it’s classed directly in 481.1 without much fuss.

The Humez brothers’ Alpha to Omega takes the reader on a journey through the standard Greek alphabet in order. Along the way, they investigate all manner of modern etymology, classical Greek mythology and history, interesting tidbits about gardening, and even why glass panes over time become thicker on the bottom than on the top (they are still a liquid).

Each chapter is devoted to a letter in the Greek alphabet and then a few words that start with that letter (for example, the chapter on tau talks about tetrahedrons and tessellation). Each of these examples invariably leads to fun and engaging digressions on Greek history and other assorted trivia. There is an insane amount of etymological insight in here as well, including the fact that the “o” of the -cho- part of psychology is completely arbitrary and that British citizens undergoing treatment call it “psychetherapy.”

The Humez brothers do a very good job of keeping the history and politics light(ish) and accessible while still imparting a massive amount of information about ancient history, linguistics, and theatrics. The short but eye-opening chapters make for very good bathroom reading, so good in fact, that I have replaced two books I planned for other sections with two of theirs.