48. Phi Beta Delta: Our Middle Initial

One doesn't know if John Paul Jones was JPJ to his shipmates, but of course PBD also has a middle initial. The letter B has been around for at least four thousand years. It shows up in excavations at Wadsi el-Hol in Egypt that date from 1800 BC. It appears in Hebrew, where it is called bayt or bet or beth. There its name means house. The Greeks kept it in second place in their alphabet when they took it from the Phoenicians. But they changed its name and gave it a Greek feeling by calling it beta.

Since it is the second word in our name, it is not surprising that the Greeks eventually used beta as a noun to mean second. The scholar Eratosthenes of Cyrene, director of the library at Alexandria, was known for his vast knowledge of almost everything and was given the affectionate name Beta, because his broad expansive learning made him second in almost every field of knowledge after the leading scholar in the field.

These days, the beta version of any software is considered best, because the alpha version has all the bugs. Certainly B is a worthy initial and in PBD we might think about its long voyage through time until it ended up in our title. It is one of the rafters in our society's house.

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