This is the alphabetical list of letters present in every childhood classroom, and printed on every elementary school desk: “A-B-C-D…”

Technically, this is an ordered list of letters in any language, not just English.

Now, you would think it’s a word formed from “ABC,” but it’s not. It’s actually a noun form of the Latin “abecedārius,” which means “alphabetical.”

Why I Looked It Up

The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said:

There is an abecedarium ignorance that precedes knowledge, and a doctoral ignorance that comes after it.

I assume that “abecedarium ignorance” means illiteracy – you are ignorant of letters and their proper order.

One interpretation of Montaigne reads:

The first is the ignorance of those who, not knowing their ABC’s, cannot read at all. The second is the ignorance of those who have misread many books. They are, as Alexander Pope rightly calls them, bookful blockheads, ignorantly read.

I got the Montaigne quote from a book called The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes, the title of which is a direct reflection of his meaning.

(A great fear of mine is that I suffer from “doctoral ignorance.” I read a lot. Do I absorb any of it?)

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