Letter B

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Doggerel: Bionic bunnies brandishing bayonets blindly battle belligerent butterflies bombing burger bridge

Media and materials: Brush, bubble wrap, beetroot, berries, blend, burn, backlight, bamboo, batik, bead, bitumen, bisque, bite, bleach, bleed, blockprint,bone, butter, bricolage, burin, burnish, blotting paper, board, book, bond, Bristol Board, Bockingford

Style: Bruxellism, bohemian, bokuseki, bokusaiga, botanical, Balance, bevel, bulge, bloat, blur

Initial A2 brainstorm sketch


 Details and further exploratory sketches

Media experiments


Final image development


Typeface selections from Adobe Illustrator


Edited and extended from:

B or b (pronounced /ˈb/, bee) represents the voiced bilabial stop in many languages, including English. In some other languages, it is used to represent other bilabial consonants like v.


The Phoenician letter bēt  (Phoenician for “house”) Bethwas a modified form of a Proto-Sinaitic glyph  Bet  probably adapted from the Egyptian hieroglyph Pr Per meaning “house”. The Egyptian hieroglyph for the consonant /b/ had been an image of a foot and calf  B ⟩. The Hebrew letter beth ב is a separate development of the Phoenician letter.

Modern Roman
Egyptian hieroglyphic house Phoenician beth Greek beta Etruscan B Roman B Runic B Uncial B Insular b Blackletter b Antiqua B Roman B & b

The Greek alphabet on an ancient black figure vessel, with the characteristically angular beta of the time



The Roman B derived from the Greek capital beta Β via its Etruscan and Cumaean variants. The letter Β had the largest number of highly divergent local forms. Besides the standard form (either rounded or pointed, Greek Beta 16.svg), there were forms as varied as Greek Beta 12.svg (Gortyn), Greek Beta 01.svg and Greek Beta 10.svg (Thera), Greek Beta 03.svg(Argos), Greek Beta 05.svg (Melos), Greek Beta Corinth 1.svg (Corinth), Greek Beta Byzantium 1.svg (Megara, Byzantium), Greek Gamma C-shaped.svg (Cyclades).

Old English was originally written in runes, whose equivalent letter was beorc , meaning “birch”. Beorc dates to at least the 2nd-century Elder Futhark, which is now thought to have derived from the Old Italic alphabets’   either directly or via Latin B.

The uncial B and half-uncial b introduced by the Gregorian and Irish missions gradually developed into the Insular scripts’ b. These Old English Latin alphabets supplanted the earlier runes, whose use was fully banned under King Canute in the early 11th century. The Norman Conquest popularized the Carolingian half-uncial forms which latter developed into blackletter  b . Around 1300, letter case was increasingly distinguished, with upper-and lower-case B taking separate meanings. Following the advent of printing in the 15th century, Germany and Scandinavia continued to use forms of blackletter (particularly Fraktur), while England eventually adopted thehumanist and antiqua scripts developed in Renaissance Italy from a combination of Roman inscriptions and Carolingian texts. The present forms of the English cursive B were developed by the 17th century.

Ancestors, descendants and siblings

Many other languages besides English use b to represent a voiced bilabial stop.

  •  : Semitic letter Bet, from which the following symbols originally derive.
  • Β β : Greek letter Beta, from which B derives. By Byzantine times, the Greek letter Β came to be pronounced /v/, so that it is known in modern Greek as víta (still written βήτα). Modern Greek continues to lack a letter for the voiced bilabial plosive and transliterates such sounds from other languages using the digraph/consonant cluster μπ, mp.
  • Ⲃ ⲃ Coptic letter Bēta, which derives from Greek Beta
  • В в : Cyrillic letter Ve, which also derives from Beta
  • Б б : Cyrillic letter Be, which also derives from Beta
  •  : Old Italic B, which derives from Greek Beta
  •  : Runic letter Berkanan, which probably derives from Old Italic B
  •  : Gothic letter bercna, which derives from Greek Beta
  • IPA-specific symbols related to B: ɓ ʙ β
  • B with diacritics: Ƀ ƀ Ḃ ḃ Ḅ ḅ Ḇ ḇ Ɓ ɓ

As /b/ is one of the sounds subject to Grimm’s Law of phonetic transformation, words which have b in English and other Germanic languages may find their cognates in other Indo-European languages appearing with bh, p, f or φ instead. For example, compare the various cognates of the word brother.

Other representations

NATO phonetic Morse code
Bravo –···
ICS Bravo.svg Semaphore Bravo.svg ⠃
Signal flag Flag semaphore Braille

 Connotations in mathematics, science and economics

Numeral: In the system of Greek numerals, beta has a value of 2. Such use is denoted by a number mark: Β′. In Scientific unit notation it is used as a particle and pronounced as a /bIta/

Computing: In computing, the term “beta” is used as (usually) the last testing release (or the preview release) in the software release life cycle before the “release” version. Beta versions often have a version number of the form “0.n“, (or “build number“). Typically it is the last version before a version of a software is fully released to all its actual customers.

Mathematics: Beta is often used to denote a variable in mathematics and physics, where it often has specific meanings for certain applications, such as representing beta radiation. In regression analysis, B symbolizes nonstandardized partial slope coefficients, whereas β represents standardized (standard deviation-score form) coefficients; in both cases, the coefficients reflect the change in the criterion Y per one-unit change in the value of the associated predictor X. β is sometimes used as a placeholder for an ordinal number if α is already used.

Spaceflight: Beta angle describes the angle between the orbit plane of a spacecraft or other body and the vector from the sun.

Statistics: beta may represent type II error, or regression slope.

Rock climbing terminology The term “beta” refers to advice on how to successfully complete a particular climbing route, boulder problem, or crux sequence.

Videotape format: Beta was the name of a domestic videotape format developed by Japan’s Sony Corporation in the 1970s and 1980s. It competed with the Video Home System (VHS) format developed by the Japanese Victor Company, to which it eventually succumbed. The Beta format was also marketed as Betamax (Sony) and Betacord (Sanyo).

Finance: Beta is used in finance as a measure of investment portfolio risk. Beta in this context is calculated as the covariance of the portfolio’s returns with its benchmark’s returns, divided by the variance of the benchmark’s returns. A beta of 1.5 means that for every 1% change in the value of the benchmark, the portfolio’s value changes by 1.5%.

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