Some questions about the alphabet

December 20, 2009 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

I don’t know why I think about these things, but I have some questions about our alphabet.   Typically I would google such things, but I decided I would just ramble and rant a little bit and let people who know stuff or want to google provide the answers.  I’ll write it out so that we will have a reference:


ay bee cee dee ee eff gee aich(?) i jay kay el em en o pee queue (?) arr ess tee yoo vee double-yoo eks why(?) zee

1) We will start with the most obvious of questions.  Why is ‘w’ called a double u?  If you were to put two u’s together, it would sound like an extended u, it wouldn’t make a wuh sound.  Furthermore, it is shaped like two v’s, wouldn’t double-v be more appropriate?  Why not just go with what seems to be the primary pattern of pronunciation and go with wee.

(Sidenote, do not reference the alphabet song as a reason or answer for the questions.  Pretty sure that the song was created to fit the alphabet, not the opposite)

2) Speaking of “wee,” what is the pattern as to whether or not we pronounce the name of the letter with vowels before or after the consonant sound? (What are you talkng about?) For example, el versus bee.  Why is it not lee or ebb?  At a minimum, those should be the only two choices.  Suddenly for no good reason we have jay and kay.  I guess they make it jay to not get it confused with gee.  But why kay?  Did they not want jay to get lonely?  Don’t even get me started on h.  How do you come up with that?  I imagine a group of people coming up with the names for our letters and someone says, “OK, next we have hee.”  Then someone with my sense of humor says, “No, no, no.  Let’s have fun and name it something that is completely unrelated to the sound it makes.  How about aich?”  I’m sure that was the same guy that came up with double-u.  Wouldn’t it be simpler if we had named all of the consonants with the sound followed by ee?  I understand that there would be some problems with that, most of them minor.  We would have a hard time prounouncing xee differently than zee.  We would just have to work harder.  We would have to make an exception for Q since you can’t have an ee sound immediately after a q.  It would have to be quee, pronounced kwee.  I’m fine with that.  Also, g would have to be pronounced with a hard g, like ghee so it doesn’t get confused with jee.  The biggest problem would be ess and cee.  That would make them both pronounced cee.  This leads to another question:

3) Can’t we just get rid of C?  It’s primary duties are already being shouldered by two other letters.  If it is a hard c, k is working fine.  If it is a soft c, s is doing great.  Unless, I’m missing something (how is that possible?), the only problem is with the digraph ch. (I almost called this a dipthong, thanks as always, Google.  A digraph is different than a blend.  Did you know that? You do now)  This presents us with an opportunity to replace cee with the newer, much cooler chee.  While we still have 26 letters, some of our writing is simpler in that we now have one letter instead of two. Imagine how cool chee would be if we got to design it. It could be even cooler than the ampersand (&) which is, I will have to admit, pretty cool.

In conclusion, I am willing to make an exception on the consonant change for R and Y.  I can make the exception for Y because it is a consonant and sometimes a vowel, so it can be its own category.  Does anyone else remember growing up that we used to be taught the vowels were a e i o and u and sometimes Wand y?  They stopped doing that after a while.  I think mostly because no one knew under what circumstances w was a vowel.  It certainly never makes a vowel sound.  NERD ALERT! I figured it out in seminary while I was studying Hebrew.  It involves open and closed syllables and how that affects long and short vowel pronunciations.  If you want to know more about that, holler at me. 

I am willing to make an exception for R, because saying it makes you sound like a pirate, and well, pirates are cool.


6 Responses to “Some questions about the alphabet”
  1. Megan says:

    You’re right, this was ridiculous but highly entertaining.

    Just an FYI, in Ireland “H” is pronounced “haich.” How do you feel about that?

  2. 1. W – did you not write that as two “u”s stuck together (you know, all rounded like) when you were a kid? Or was that just a girly writing thing? Made sense, though, in that context.
    2. Megan – “haich” hard “ch” or soft – as in Anne Heche?
    3. Absolutely vote to oust “C”. Useless and confusing. Except for the “ch” – gotta do something about that.
    4. It’s “diphthong” not “dipthong” according to (so long as we’re keeping with the language discussion and all). I had to look this one up – didn’t know this word. Did however know the difference between digraph and blend (requirement of teaching 1st and 3rd graders).
    5. W? As a vowel? Where did you go to school and in what time period? Really? I’ve never heard of that. Gotta check into it, now.

    Overall, I agree – revamp the whole system. And don’t even get me started on trying to teach phonics and reading with an accent such as mine. The word “envelope”? Why on earth do they put that word on “E” worksheets? Just to confuse my children? I need a southern publisher. And putting “Pen” and “Pin” on short vowel worksheets? Not with this mama. ‘Cause there ain’t no diff’rence in those 2 words down here.

    Oh, wait, I think you might’ve found one of my soapboxes ’round here.

  3. Megan says:

    Suzanne, pronounce the “h” at the front of the “haich” with a hard “ch” at the end and you’ll be saying it the Irish way.

    Of course, this is from the same folk who say things like “tirty-tree tousand” instead of thirty-three thousand, so what do they know? :)

  4. cloften says:

    Suzanne, do you want the overly-complicated explanation for how w is a vowel? Here is a clue: note how “tow” has a long vowel sound. Words that end in a consonant have a short vowel sound at the end, like “pot.”

  5. GabeB says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who has thought of these things. Charlie you make me feel a little less crazy.


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