In the ASL fingerspelling alphabet, the letters U, V, W, Y, and Z all look similar to the printed English letters. But the sign with the fingers in a
x shape is R, and the letter X uses a different shape. Is there a reason for this or a known story behind how it got that way?
The idea of using hand shapes to communicate seems to have been borrowed from native Americans by early Spanish explorers. In 1620, Juan Pablo Bonet published a manual alphabet in which you can recognize most of the hand shapes of modern AMA (American Manual Alphabet); however, the 'R' was originally formed by bending only the middle finger. This sign is difficult to make without also bending the ring finger. I don't know if that was a reason, but after the French adopted the Spanish shapes, 'R' had changed to the slightly crossed index and middle fingers. The 'X' shape (hooked index finger with others curled) came first. Thomas Gallaudet brought the French shapes to America (back to where the concept had originated).
The ASL manual alphabet is derived more or less directly from the French manual alphabet. Here, the shape of
R is again as you describe.
X is shaped a little differently though; it's like the American one but extends both the middle and index finger, bending them in the way you know. This shape is reminiscent of the handwritten
x which is formed by first writing the left hand part
), and then the right hand part