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JAY STREET MYSTERY

27 May 2008

This was an e-mail from my father. I live not far from where J Street should be, and am glad to have another theory on the matter. Google gives the original source as the DC Almanac

MICHAEL FELDMAN’S Whad’ya Know may have solved a major local mystery: why DC doesn’t have a Jay Street. The guest was an author who had written about the history of letters and he pointed out that Noah Webster in 1828 was the first person to publish a dictionary with all 26 letters of the alphabet in it. The letter J was one of those that were frequently missing. Noah Webster came along several decades after Washington was laid out.

WIKIPEDIA – The letter J is the tenth of the Latin alphabet; it was the last to be added to that alphabet. . . . Only about .06% of letters in English, .22% in Spanish, and .29% in French on average are Js. It is the 24th-most frequent letter in English, the 23rd-most frequent in Spanish, and the 21st-most frequent in French. . . Some believe that Petrus Ramus (d. 1572) was the first to make a distinction between I and J. The differentiation was probably made first in Spanish though, where, from the very introduction of printing, we see j used for the consonant, and i only for the vowel. For the capitals, I had at first to stand for both (as it still does in German type, and in all varieties of Gothic or Black Letter); but before 1600 a capital J consonant began to appear in Spanish. . .

In England, individual attempts to differentiate i and j were made already in the 16th century, as by Richard Day, who printed books in London after 1578, and George Bishop, who printed the translation of La Primaudaye’s French Academie in 1586, with i, j, u, v, differentiated as in modern use, but had no capital J or U. The J j types are not used in the Bible of 1611, nor in the text of the Shakespeare Folio of 1623; these have I i for both values; but the latter has a capital Italic J in headlines in the proper names ohn, uliet, ulius, and in the colophon, list of actors, etc., thus showing a tendency to use this (in its origin merely an ornamental variety of I) as a J. . . .

But though the differentiation of I and J, in form and value, was thus completed before 1640, the feeling that they were, notwithstanding, merely forms of the same letter continued for many generations. . . In dictionaries, the I and J words continued to be intermingled in one series down to the 19th century. Dr. Johnson, indeed, under the letter I, says “I is in English considered both as a vowel and consonant; though, since the vowel and consonant differ in their form as well as sound, they may be more properly accounted two letters”. . . .

SO FORGET ABOUT the Pierre L’Enfant hating John Jay myth; it’s more J was just a letter too few people knew or cared about.

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