Il a des lettres.

Il a des lettres.

ee lah day LET-truh. Click below to hear this. 

He’s well-read.

Or, literally, He has letters. Yes, like letters of the alphabet. What does that have to do with being well-read? My two-year-old grandson has a couple of letters, too. He appears to recognize them when he looks at his alphabet books. My six-year-old granddaughter has lots of letters. She’s reading at the second-grade level. I’m proud of her, but… So?

In French, être lettré (to be “lettered”) means to be literate, and illettré means illiterate (“unlettered”). Another word for this is analphabète, without an alphabet. And surely, one needs lots of letters (not to mention the ability to arrange them this way and that) to be a reader.

But I suspect that this expression goes beyond the letters needed in order to read. I think perhaps it hints that the “well-read” person is entitled to affix some letters after his or her name. For example, if I want to be snooty about it, I am Ruth C. Hoffman, A.M., Ph.D. If nothing else, those letters imply that I have read a lot of books, esoteric though some of them may be.

I always did like letters better than numbers! Those letters after my name? I earned them, letter by letter, book by book.

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