An Oral History of the Alphabet


On Alphabetic Order

Letter A: I never asked to be first.  Everyone new a Vowel would be the first. I had the same 20% chance as the other Vowels. It was just luck. I have gotten used to it, though. The only drawback is when someone says the alphabet really fast, bugs get stuck in me since I am up front.  And I often take the brunt of any derailments. Preschool kids have us [the alphabet] crashing all over the place. But we have pretty good insurance through both the Linguistic Society of America and the International Phonetic Association. Hasbro [maker of Scrabble] covers our co-pays and J.R.R. Tolkien pays our deductibles since he uses so many initials in his name.

 Letter E: I should have been first, damn it! I’m the most used letter. Look the game of Scrabble. You get more of me than any other letter, which obviously means I am the most important.  On top of that, without me there would be no past tense. You could never adequately describe what happened in the past. Sure you could say who said what and why, but you could never say when or where.  That would make history a pretty lousy subject. You’re stuck with the now but not the “present” and the future but not the “future.” Existentially speaking, I am the most important letter there is.

Every year I petition to International Phonetic Association (IPA) to get moved to the front of the line. The IPA says I have to get three-quarters approval from the rest of letters, which is 20. I’ve struggled to get there thus far. The other Vowels are sticking with A. They’re pretty conservative. But biggest hurdle has been getting the support of L, M, N, O, and P.  Ever since that damn book Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn came out they have become very cliquey and vote in an unbreakable bloc. I’m sure they fear that if one letter gets moved, others will want to get moved, they’ll get separated and their beloved Ella Minnow Pea will cease to exist.  I’m going to keep working on L and P. They’ll eventually crack.

 Letter J: I think A should go first as it is also the first letter of the word “alphabet.”

 Letter Z:  I don’t mind being last, it fits my laid-back life style. I don’t get used very much anyway. With all the free time I have I enjoy a number of hobbies – DJ’ing at parties like the International Phonetic Association’s quadrennial International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. The next one will be in 2019 in Melbourne. Expect a rager of epic proportions.  Let’s just say several new meanings were given to the word “tripthong” in Scotland in 2015. I know some linguists who would like for that year to remain in the pluperfect.

Letter P: We do get a tired of being the same position all the time. But we do understand importance of consistency. We are lined up in order in thousands of classrooms. I think kids would freak out a little if we moved around.

Letter B:  During the summer we  get to change things up a little.  When kids are not around we will often rearrange ourselves into “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This allows us to hang out with other letter for a while still remaining on the banner. I am next to R.  I found out two things about R after this. One, he’s funny as hell. And two, he is P’s brother. I’m not sure why Q is between them.  Separating them like that seems pretty cruel.  But so does trying to speak French.

Letter Q: I’m soooo glad they put me between the siblings P and R and away from U. He is aallllllways following me around and stepping on my tail. He’s so round on the bottom, too, that I’m afraid a quick turn of the page or strong wind will blow him over on top of me.   He’s, like, literally a stalker. I should get a restraining order against him. But S and T are pretty strong and look out for me.

 The Vowels

 Letter D:  There is no denying E’s importance. A little more humility  would suit him well. And what he fails to mention, or likely does not realize, his mind clouded with vanity, is that he needs me more that he realizes. Like poets, one could just easily and more quickly than writing an “e” insert an apostrophe to create the past tense of most words. For example: He hop’d to be first in the alphabetic order but his fate was seal’d by the Romans, and he has rag’d ever since.  When you type this up I trust you not to use e’s in those three past tense words.

 Letter R: It always makes me chuckle when I think about E not being in the typical grading system – A, B, C, D, and F.

 Letter I:  E had two scares in the 20th century. First, in 1939 a 166-page novel called Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words without Using the Letter “E” was published. Thirty years later a French writer by the name of Georges Perec accomplished the same feat by writing the 248-page A Void. Both books are remarkable achievements. But, more remarkably, A Void was translated from the original French to English. Amazing! I get tired just thinking about trying that.

When Gadsby was published, E feared that with the Great Depression people would take up the habit of not using the letter “e” to save money on printing costs or expend less energy while writing.  In 1969 he feared all the drugs and rock-n-roll of that decade would lead to other craziness. E quickly recovered after J calmed him down by pointing out, that while “drugs” and “rock-n-roll” did not need an “e” “peace” and “love” – especially “free love” – needed him.

Neither book was huge success. Gadsby was self-published. A Void has been translated into a number of other languages starting in 1986, but the original trend did not continue.  With E’s vanity and cockiness, all the other letters were enjoyed a little schadenfreude, especially after E’s taunting in 1779 with the Benjamin Franklin Episode.

Letter C: O is very sensitive about her size and prefers to be typed in Arial Narrow whenever possible. But I like a letter with some curves. I needs to eat more. I think she is bulimic.

The Consonants

 Letter U:  What did Q tell you? That I’m her stalker? HA! Don’t listen to her, she’s delusional. She’s worthless without me and she needs me much more than I need her.  I think she’s a little insecure, too. She’s grouped with us Consonants, but she looks a vowel but with a little vestigial tail. She’s clearly related to O, but O rarely has anything to do with her. They are in a few words together, but not many.  N told me that O told him once that we was little embarrassed by her, like she’s an un-evolved version of himself, like she’s trailer trash.

 Letter Y:  Benjamin Franklin gave some of s consonants a mighty scare. In 1779, in an effort to reduce bad spelling, he proposed a new alphabet that removed C, J, Q, W, X, and Y and added six new consonants. He also believed that the letters listed were not needed. He proposed his new alphabet while in France as the United States Minister to France. Given that French words have so many silent or unnecessary letters, it is not surprising he was looking for a more economical way of writing.

Thankfully this never caught on. Rumor has it that in a fit of pique after drinking too much wine he proposed doing away with vowels altogether.

 Letter H:  I guess you could say I’m poly-amorous. I hook up a lot with T and S and C. They are all cool with it. They know there is a lot of me go around. We’ve all been tested for STDs, so it’s all good.  

Letter K:  It has been tough for me over the years, much more so than other letters. I keep being used by distasteful groups – KKK, KGB, NKVD. And I am used to denote strike outs in baseball.  All these negative associations really bummed be out during the middle of the 20th century. Thankfully, “OK” or simply “K” for the texters has lessened the stigma associated with me over the years. Not many Millennials know about those organization, but they should probably learn about them.

One thing no one has been able to explain to me is why a “K” for the element Potassium? I know there are some others combinations of letters that make no sense – Au for gold, Hg for mercury, Na for sodium – but I am the only single letter used that has no relation to the name of the element. Check it out for yourself if you do not believe me.  Even V got vanadium. B and N gave me hard time about it for a long time, but they’re immature idiots.

 Letter X: I’m really not that negative of a letter. I’m cheerful and happy most of the time. Ask W and Y.  I’ve been totally miscast. I should be more upset than K.  Using me in red to grade papers. Cartoonists drawing on eyes to show death.

 Letter W: I do feel quite unique. I sort of evolved from V and U over time. Also, I am the only modern English letter whose name has more than one syllable and the only English letter whose name is not pronounced with any of the sounds that the letter typically makes in words. I don’t know what good this knowledge is to anyone except for Jeopardy contestants.

 Letter G: X has his spot, but I think I got the better one – though it can be harder to find and there is generally no map. P


Letter O: Do you think the font Old English Text makes my butt look too big? Please don’t type me in bold.

 Letter Y:  In the evenings we do like to gather around a big screen and watch Wheel of Fortune. That Pat Sajack is ageless.

Letter W: When staff of the outgoing Clinton administration took off all the w’s from the keyboards in the West Wing that was HILARIOUS. A classic prank! I laughed for days and then cried a little.  The 2000 election was very emotional for me. So the laugh/cry session was very cathartic. J, F, K, L, B, and J all knew what I was going through and were helpful.

Letter L: Those Cyrillic letters are hot, so exotic. I’ve sent away for a mail-order bride catalog.

Letter C:  I handle the finances for us. Yes, Larry Page did offer us some stock for licensing rights so he could rename his company. Larry’s good people. The stock has gone up 43% since then. We’re doing alright.

However, where we did not do alright was with those bastards at Campbell and Post Food. In 1915 Campbell introduced its alphabet soup. Guess what we got out of that? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.  And then in the 1958, Post Food starting making their Alpha-Bits cereal. Again, no contact with us. No permission asked.  It was impossible for us to find an attorney that would take our case in 1915. We are not recognized as individuals or legal entities and therefore could not sue.  It is highly unlikely we would have prevailed going up against two big companies.  However, with 99 year usage rights given Larry Page we protected for the foreseeable future.

M is still upset at Mars for M&M’s candy.

Letter M:  Mars owes me a ton of money. Bastards.

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