Linguistics Asked on October 23, 2021
Why do the Cyrillic ‘Z'(З) and the number ‘3’ seem to be the same glyph? Is there a difference that I’m just not seeing? They look identical to me
Beside the valid answers given earlier, one more practical point to consider is that mechanical typewriters in USSR (at least the one we had) did not have two separate keys for these, so save some space on mechanics and complexity I guess. So when you needed a "three", you typed "capital Z" and that was it. Surely, in that case the glyphs were identical ;) Elsewhere, a zero and capital O could suffer similarly.
There was also a practice of typing roman numbers with Cyrillic letters, which looks strange to uninitiated, e.g.:
I - 1 II - П III - Ш V - У X - Х
which led to a number of misinterpretations sometimes.
Rare characters like "L" (roman 50) could be retouched from "1" with a pencil after typing.
More examples of that can be seen e.g. in discussion at https://www.multitran.com/c/m.exe?a=4&MessNum=282414&l1=1&l2=2
Answered by Jim Klimov on October 23, 2021
BTW, this similarity was confusing people in XX century, so they agreed to change the number 3 glyph to slightly differ from the letter. This difference is still maintined in the technical documentation in Russia, as reflected in the GOST standard 2.304-81 note the last glyph of the first two lines - it specifically highlights the number 3:
Answered by user488399 on October 23, 2021
Draconis explained the origin, but I'll go into another aspect of your question: For practical purposes, yes, it is the same glyph. Native Cyrillic speakers will frequently write the same shape for both when writing by hand, and while I suppose computer fonts have to have a separate glyph for both, I wouldn't be surprised if many font designers copy-paste their design between the two. Even when the design in a font is different, I believe that the average native Cyrillic-written-language speaker will not be able to recognize the difference between the two glyphs if they are shown out of context.
This lack of distinction is so ingrained, it led to amusing situations like frequently hearing people talk about the "Em-pe-ze file format" in the late nineties (I never found out why it wasn't "Em-er-ze", which would have been a more logical mistake to make).
So in general, the glyphs are the same, or perceived as the same. But there are exceptions in some situations.
Answered by rumtscho on October 23, 2021
The letter З developed from the Greek letter zeta (Ζ), through an intermediate form with a tail (Ꙁ). This shape got simplified in handwriting until it became the modern form.
The number 3 developed from a Brahmi glyph with three lines, similar to Chinese 三. In cursive writing, this evolved into a modern 3 so that it could be written in a single stroke.
Answered by Draconis on October 23, 2021
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