You’ve probably heard of the term “Alpha” many times before, but did you know that it is of Greek origin? Before it became the term that signifies leadership in groups such as a wolf pack (and a werewolf pack in fiction), the Alpha symbol is, first of all, a letter from the Greek alphabet.
In today’s article, we focus on the Alpha sign — its origin, history, meanings, and significance then and now.
Greek Letter Alpha – Origin and History
Alpha (uppercase Α, lowercase α; Ancient Greek: ἄλφα) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Being the first of the 24 Greek alphabet letters, it is also a part of the Greek numeral system.
It denotes the value of 1. The Greek letter Alpha is known to have been derived from the Phoenician and Hebrew letter, Aleph, which means leader or ox. The Cyrillic letter A, as well as the Latin letter A that’s also used in the English alphabet, are derivations of the Greek Alpha.
Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, once started a discussion as to why Alpha became the first letter of the Greek alphabet. In a conversation with Ammonius, Plutarch said that his grandfather Lamprias maintained that the first articulate sound made by children is A, as in the Alpha.
Furthermore, based on Plutarch’s natural order of attribution where vowels were attributed to the planets, Alpha was connected to the moon.
Because of its significance as the first letter of the Greek alphabet, Alpha has become synonymous with the “beginning”. It has also been largely used to denote social hierarchical positions, such as the “Alpha male”.
Alpha and Omega – Where Does the Phrase Come From?
Among the most popular usage of Alpha as a term is how it is used in religion, including Christianity.
In the New Testament, God declares himself as the “Alpha and Omega”, which means He is the first and the last, and the beginning and the end. (See Revelation 1:8 and Revelation 22:13.)
The Bible’s New Testament, which includes the Book of Revelation, was first written in Greek. As Alpha and Omega are the first and last Greek alphabet letters, they were used to denote the beginning and the end, which described the presence and power of God.
With God being the Alpha and Omega, it signifies that His existence and power is infinite and everlasting.
Alpha Symbol – Uses in Math and Science
In general, the Alpha symbol is used to describe or refer to something that signifies the beginning of a particular process or occurrence. It is also used to denote a significant event or the origin of something. Because of this, it is utilized to represent different concepts and values in math and science.
In chemistry and physics, the Alpha sign denotes various concepts, including alpha particles, alpha radiation, and alpha carbon. It also symbolizes angular acceleration. The lowercase Alpha letter is also used to denote Sommerfeld’s constant or the fine-structure constant, which essentially describes the strength of electromagnetic interaction.
In mathematics, the Alpha letter is commonly used to represent different quantities, such as angles in algebraic solutions. It is also used to signify the area under a normal curve in statistics. As such, it denotes the significance level when trying to prove an alternative or null hypothesis.
Possibly one of the most popular uses of Alpha is in zoology, where it is used to describe the most dominant member of a dog or wolf pack.
Alpha is also used in aerodynamics, where it is used to symbolize the angle of attack of an aircraft.
Furthermore, Alpha is also used to signify the letter A in the NATO phonetic alphabet, which is the standard spelling alphabet used by many sectors including aviation and military. It is joined by the other Greek letter Delta, which stands for the letter D.
The lowercase Alpha is also used in the APL programming language together with the lowercase Omega to denote the left and right arguments.
As a symbol, the lowercase Alpha is more widely used than the uppercase Alpha because of the latter’s similarity with the Latin/English letter A. To avoid confusion, the uppercase Alpha [Α] is not used as a symbol in math, science, or other fields — unless it is used as an acronym for the letter A itself.
How to Type the Alpha Symbol
Need to type the Alpha symbol but don’t know how to insert it into your document? Here are the methods and steps you can use.
How to Type the Alpha Symbol in Word
There are various ways to type the Alpha sign in Microsoft Word or other word processors.
One way is to use the Insert tab. Locate the Insert tab, then click on Symbol. This will open the Symbol dialog box. On the “Subset:” field, choose “Greek and Coptic”. Then, on the field “from:”, choose “Unicode (hex)”. Next, look for the Alpha symbol (α) and click on it. Click “Insert”, then close the box.
You can also use the ALT-code method. While typing, press and hold ALT, then type 225 on the numeric keypad. Note that this keyboard shortcut only works if you have a full keyboard with a numeric keypad.
How to Insert the Alpha Symbol in Excel
If you need to add the Alpha sign in your Excel sheet, you can also use the Insert method as you would in a Word document. Simply look for the Insert > Symbol tab, then select the Alpha letter from the options in the dialog box.
Another simple way to add the Alpha symbol in Excel is to copy-paste it. You can copy these symbols: [uppercase Α, lowercase α], and paste in any cell in your sheet.
How to Type the Alpha Symbol on Mac
It’s easy to add the Alpha symbols on documents using a Mac. Simply use the following keyboard shortcuts:
- For uppercase Alpha: CTRL + G + A
- For lowercase Alpha: CTRL + G + a