Is ‘e’ really the most common letter of the alphabet?

5 Jun

Pic by Leo Reynolds

As a very shy child, I was far better at collecting books than friends. So while I have few schoolmates in my list of Facebook connections, some of the novels I read back then have stayed with me. Among them is Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson, which remains a cherished favourite to this day.

Sadly, myriad moves have seen most of my other childhood books disappear. And I curse the day I decided to sell all of my original Enid Blytons to buy cassingles (yes I am that old). But occasionally they come to visit, through sections of plot or characters that pop into my head, driving me crazy until I can remember where they are from and what they are called.

So it is with one particular book at the moment. I have no idea who wrote it, or even what it was called, but in involved a treasure hunt in the jungle and a code that was built around replacing the alphabet with various numbers. Even to this day I can clearly remember the lead character explaining the key to unlocking it was the letter ‘e’, as it was the most common letter in the alphabet and would therefore be substituted for the most common number. And right he was, since the treasure was soon in their hands.

In true style, that random fact proved more than a passing sentence for a child who lapped up knowledge like it was chocolate milk. It has stayed with me ever since and has been put to good use in unravelling many a clueless crossword. I even shared it with one of my nephews this week as he prepared for a course in code breaking.

But as I did so, it suddenly occurred to me that I had never questioned it. As a long-time journalist I was certain it was true, but today seemed as good a day as any to double check.

So I turned to the Oxford Dictionary, which confirmed it was not only the most common letter in English text but also the most common letter in English vocabulary.

That goodness I hadn’t given him a bum steer!

And I did discover something else interesting. Despite, or maybe because of, its popularity, several authors have actually gone to the trouble of writing entire novels that deliberately avoid any use of the letter ‘e’. Sounds almost impossible, doesn’t it? But they did it. Which of course begs the question of why.

Read about some of them at The Writing Post.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: