The American Cyclopædia (1879)/A

Edition of 1879. See also A on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

A, THE first of the vowels, and the first letter of all written alphabets except the Amharic or Abyssinian, of which it is the thirteenth, and the Runic, of which it is the tenth. This almost universal precedence appears to be due to the fact that its typical and probably only original sound (ah) is the most easily uttered of all sounds, being produced by a simple expulsion of the breath through the freely opened throat and mouth. In English, A has at least four distinct sounds, as heard in mate, mat, mart, ball; and that heard in mare is usually reckoned a fifth. In the words any, many, it has exceptionally the sound of short e. In combination with other vowels, it is sometimes heard alone, as in maid, aunt, pear; and is sometimes silent, as in boat, head, beauty. The historical features of A are interesting. Its sound (probably that which we now have in mart) was disliked by Cicero, and in the treatise De Oratore, c. xlix., he terms it insuavissima littera. By the ancients, A was employed as a numeral, and stood for 500, and when a dash was placed over it, thus, Ā, for ten times that number, or 5,000. It is the first of the seven Dominical letters in the Julian calendar—an imitation of the litteræ nundinales, which were in use among the Romans long before the introduction of Christianity. In logic, the letter A denotes a universal affirmative. In the comitia of the Romans, it was used in giving suffrages. In criminal trials it represented Absolvo, I acquit; hence Cicero, in his speech for Milo, terms it littera salutaris. In ancient inscriptions, A stands for Augustus, Augustalis, ager, agit, aiunt, aliquando, antique, assolet, aut; AA for Augusti, Augustæ, Aulus Agerius, æs alienum, ante audita, apud agrum, aurum argentum; AAA for Augusti when three in number, and for aurum, argentum, æs. On the reverse of ancient medals, it indicates the city in which they were issued, as Argos or Athens; on modern coins it is the mark of the city of Paris, doubtless taken anagrammatically from the last letter of the name Lutetia. A is also a frequent abbreviation, as in A. D. for Anno Domini, A. M. for Artium Magister or Anno Mundi, &c. In medical prescriptions it is used thus, ā, or āā, for ana, of each. In bills of exchange it is in England and France an abbreviation for accepted. AAA is the chemical abbreviation for amalgama.—A, in music, is the nominal of the sixth diatonic interval of the first octave of the modern scale. It corresponds to the La of Guido. A was the lowest note of the ancient Greek scale, and for many centuries represented the deepest tone used in music. Alterations in the scale were made, however, in the 10th century by Guido, and subsequently by others, so that at present C is the first note of the natural scale, and A the sixth diatonic interval; a marks the same interval in the second octave. A is also the nominal of one of the two natural modes.