A is for Ox

Original Title
A is van Os

Text by
Bette Westera

Concept & illustration by




June 2018

Simplified Chinese
A is for Ox
Where do our letters come from?

Anyone who can read knows the 26 letters of our alphabet. But where do those letters come from? How long do they exist? And who designed them? Autobahn and Bette Westera take you back to the time of our distant ancestors, who made a drawing if they wanted to ‘write’ something. Slowly but surely, their drawings changed into the first letters. If you look closely, you can recognize our current alphabet.
And guess what? A is not for Apple at all, but for Ox! After reading this book you will understand how this came to be. You will also understand why, whenever we send each other emoji’s, we actually do the same as our distant ancestors over 5000 years ago. An educational and special letter book for all ages!


A. Back in time
Our letters - p. 9
From drawings to letters - p. 12
With a caravan through the desert - p. 14
How it went on - p. 20

B. All letters in a row
The alphabet from A to Z - p. 24
These weren't all letters, were they? - p. 62

C. Letters aren't everything, either
What does this say? - p. 70
The Story Continues - p. 74
Get started yourself - p. 76

About the authors - p. 79


  • A is van Os has earned Type Directors Club award for typographic excellence and is traveling in exhibitions to Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, France, USA, Australia etc.
  • The publication is nominated for ADCN Dutch Creativity Award.
  • The publication is also nominated for European Design Award.


  • ‘5 out of 5 stars ’ Volkskrant newspaper
  • ‘A highly original book about the emergence of our alphabet in a tight and inventive design ’ / Trouw newspaper
  • ‘A big ten ’ / The Happy Reader
  • ‘The origin of letters – what a good idea for a children’s book! ’ / NRC newspaper

Volkskrant A is not at all for ‘apple’, but for ‘ox’. Most gymnasians know that. But what about the other eighteen letters that form the basis of our alphabet through Greek and Latin? The D is from ‘door’. The E of ‘Hey, you there!’, The L is a rope to tie the donkey to a post and the M is for ‘water’. Just look, then you’ll see it.

To immediately remove the impression that A is for Ox, from the writer Bette Westera and the graphic agency Autobahn, only exists for prospective scientists: that is not the case. The Autobahn professional lettermakers found an ingenious way to shape the letter evolution from Proto-Sinaitic to Greek and Latin. By dividing each letter into two parts, the one orange and the other colored blue, the development through thousands of years of writing history can easily be traced back.

Once you have seen the little arms of the person who calls ‘Hey you there’, you will always recognize them in the E. And the H is of course a ‘fence’, what could it be otherwise? Westera tells a micro-story of one sentence accompanying each letter. About caravans and deserts, rivers that bring fertile silt, oxen that help to plough the tough clay, pins that help keep a tent upright. Thus each letter represents a case that was of vital importance in ancient times.

There is no big difference, says Westera, between the origin of letters and the pictures people use today to express what they find important during the app. The story of our alphabet has been told and shown more often. But rarely as inspiring as here. Pjotr van Lenteren 24 August 2018, 15:00


Autobahn is a design studio from Utrecht. Owners and designers Maarten Dullemeijer and Rob Stolte have presented commercial and self-initiated projects with exhibitions in China, Spain, Belgium, Peru and the Netherlands. Besides working for clients, the two always develop autonomous projects, such as FreshFonts: fonts made of toothpaste (Heldentica), ketchup (Tomatica) and hair gel (Gelvetica), a typography quiz and a sustainability platform for designers.
Their work has been crowned with six European Design Awards. The initiative for A van Os originated from the ideas of Autobahn: text is image. Text can be both an illustration and an information carrier. The reader can then decide: «Should I read the text or look at the image?» We can not read a text and look at an image at the same time. Autobahn calls this Pleasant Confusion and thus plays in their designs. When the son of Stolte started writing letters at the age of four, the decision was made quickly to make a children’s book. Because everyone who learns to write must know where our letters come from. And that A is not at all from Apple, but for Ox!

Bette Westera writes poems, songs, stories and informative books for children. Doodgewoon (Gottmer, 2014) was awarded the Woutertje Pieterse Prize, the Golden Granger and the Golden Poetry Medal. Other well-known books by Bette are All hands on deck, Hero on socks, Poor Empire (a reading and listening fairy tale) and Was the earth once flat? Together with guitarist Diederik van Essel, Bette gives musical performances with her books.
"Write only about things you understand," Bette says on her website. "Even for a completely self-made story about pirates or cowboys, you need to know something about pirates or cowboys." When Autobahn asked her to write the text for a book about the origins of our alphabet, she put that self-written rule to its heels. I have never done it, so I think I can do it, she decided, entirely in the spirit of Pippi Longstocking. And she started writing about something she knew very little about. Not immediately with success, but fortunately Egyptologist Ben Haring from Leiden University was helping her. She is now a lot wiser!



为了将字母的历史更广泛地传达,荷兰的设计工作室Autobahn联合金石笔奖得主Bette Westera引领你回到我们遥远的祖先时代,那时当老祖先要“写”东西的时候,他们通常用一些图画来表达。渐渐地,他们的图画变成了最先的字母。原来,A并不来自Apple, 而是Ox!读了这本书之后你将明白这其中的道理,原因是什么。任何时候当我们发emoji表情给对方,实际上我们跟5000多年前的祖先正在做一样的事情。


Bette Westera 为儿童写诗、歌曲、故事和内容丰富的书籍。 她的作品Doodgewoon (Gottmer, 2014) 被授予 Woutertje Pieterse 奖、金格兰杰奖和金诗歌奖章。 Bette 的其他著名书籍有All hands on deck, Hero on Socks, Poor Empire(一个阅读和聆听的童话)和Was the earth once flat?。 Bette和她的吉他手Diederik van Essel合作演出了她的作品。 “只写你理解的东西,”贝特在她的网站上说。 “即便是一部完全自制的关于海盗或者牛仔的小说,你也应该知道一点关于海盗或者牛仔的事情。” 当 Autobahn 让她为一本关于我们字母起源的书写文字时,她把自己定下的规则抛在脑后。 “我从来没有做过,所以我想我可以做到,” 她决定,完全本着 Pippi Longstocking 的精神。 她开始写她所不知道的事情。 虽然没有立刻获得成功,但是很庆幸,莱顿埃及古物学家 BenHalin为她提供了帮助。 她变得更聪明了!

Autobahn 是来自乌得勒支的设计工作室。 该工作室的创始人兼设计师Maarten Dullemeijer 和 Rob Stolte在中国,西班牙,比利时,秘鲁以及荷兰展出了自己的作品。 除了为客户服务外,两人还经常开发自主专案,例如 FreshFonts:由牙膏 (Heldentica)、番茄酱 (Tomatica) 和发胶 (Gelvetica) 制成的字体,这是一个面向设计师的排版测验和可持续性平台。 他们的作品获得了六项欧洲设计大奖。 A is van Os 的创意源于 Autobahn 的理念:文本即图像。 文字既可以是插图,也可以是资讯载体。 然后读者可以决定:“我应该阅读文字还是查看图像? ”事实是我们不能同时阅读文本和查看图像。 Autobahn 称之为令人愉快的混乱,因此它在他们的设计中发挥了一定的作用。 当Stolte四岁的儿子开始学习写字时,他很快就决定要做一本儿童读物。 因为每个学写字的人都必须了解我们的字母来自哪里。 字母A根本不是来自Apple,而是Ox!