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Alpha

This Greek letter shows up everywhere

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First three letters of the Greek alphabet.

It's alpha - beta - um, gamma?

Definition: We use the word "alpha" a lot in everyday conversation, from alpha blockers, "alpha males" to "alpha waves" and much in between - but what does alpha really mean?

Alpha is the first letter of the ancient Greek alphabet ... and yes, alphabet also comes from the letter alpha. So the primary meaning of Alpha is 'First' or one who comes in first in a competitive sense. The second letter of the Greek alphabet is "beta", so the word alphabet comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet.

The phrases "alpha and omega" and "from alpha to omega" also come from the Greek letter alpha, combined with the last letter of the Greek alphabet, "omega" - literally the "Big O", referring to the ancient "oh" pronounced as a "long" oh. It means "from the beginning to the end" and is referenced in the Bible. Besides "The Big O" there's another Greek letter, the omicron,  the "Little O" - the micro oh. 

Greece, in the midst of its financial crisis, may be happy to learn that there is a new meaning for "alpha" in the financial industry. There, it is used to mean someone or something that brings improvement - or at least, that's the definition provided by the Wall Street Journal in "In Translation: What is 'Alpha'?

 

Pronunciation: al'-pha

Alternate Spellings: alfa

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