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Futhark, the name of the Nordic runic alphabet, comes from the initial characters, similar to the origin of the word "alphabet". The futhark was organized in staves, or groups of characters. The word "stave", in turn, implies the common way to carve runes, in wooden staves. Swedish, for instance, still retains a verb "stava" (to spell).

The original Nordic rune alphabet, the 24-type futhark, is often called the "rune line" and was organized in 3 groups of 8 runes each, called ätter (families); Frey's ätt, Hagal's ätt and Tyr's ätt respectively, with the first character in each group being examplified by the initial character of the name.

The original Nordic 24-type futhark, also known as the Germanic futhark:

 f  u  þ  a  r  k  g  w
 h  n  i  j  e/i  p  z/R  s
 t  b  e  m  l  ng  d  o

The initial Nordic futhark of 24 runes was later shortened to 16 runes. This occurred around AD 800 and is generally seen as an adaptation to simplify the work of the writer. The two futharks are called 16-type futhark and 24-type futhark, respectively. Most Scandinavian rune inscriptions are from after AD 800 and use the later 16-type futhark.

The younger Nordic 16-type futhark:

 f  u  þ  (a)  r  k
 h  n  i   a   s 
 t  b  m   l   R

This is the Norwegian/Swedish variant, also called short-twig runes. The Danish variant is very similar.

Other Nordic futharks include stave-less runes (presumably for quicker carving) and the medieval futhark (which includes runes representing the full latin alphabet).

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