This is the only word compounded of letters only. The Greek alpha (a) beta (b); our A B C (book), etc.
The number of letters in an alphabet varies in different languages. Thus there are:
The Chinese have no alphabet, but about 20,000 syllabic characters.
Ezra vii. 21 contains all the letters of the English language, presuming I and J to be identical. Even the Italian alphabet is capable of more than seventeen trillion combinations; that is, 17 followed by eighteen other figures, as -
while the English alphabet will combine into more than twenty-nine thousand quatrillion combinations; that is, 29 followed by twenty-seven other figures, as -
Yet we have no means of marking the several sounds of our different vowels; nor can we show how to pronounce such simple words as foot (pull and dull), sugar (father and rather), (gin and be-gin), calm, Bourges, Boeuf in “Boeuf-gras,” oeufs, and thousands of other words.
We want the restoration of th to distinguish between this and thin; a Greek ch to distinguish between Church and Christ, two g 's (one soft and one hard), two c 's, two o 's, half a dozen a 's, and so on.
Take a, we have fate, fat, Thames (e), war (o), salt (au), etc. So with e, we have prey (a), met (e), England (i), sew (o), herb (u), etc. The other vowels are equally indefinite.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894