By WALLACE BAINE
The announcement of cutbacks in the Latin alphabet came as a shock to all 26 letters. Sure, the practice of texting and the emergence of Twitter were both big blows to the language, but lay-offs? It just didn’t seem plausible.
Still, there it was – the word came down from management that linguistic times were tough, and that there was no choice but to “eliminate redundancies,” as the ominous e-mail memo put it.
But which letters would go? No one could remember the last time there was a reduction in the letters of the alphabet – no one, that is, expect W, which came into being after six other runic characters were pink-slipped back during medieval times. W was always a bit sensitive to its place in the alphabet, being the only letter not to have its own distinct name – “double-u” was supposed to be a placeholder until a proper name came along, which never happened.
Brooding on the common practice of “last hired, first fired,” W worried that it was the first letter on the chopping block. But it was Q that got sacked first. The other letters liked Q; it was eccentric and lovable, but its low usage rate (.1 percent) doomed it. The others worried what Q would do without its constant companion U, and on the day after Q cleared out its desk and disappeared, U tried to assuage the guilt of the other letters by explaining that the two letters would still work together in other contexts.
“We’ll always have Spanish,” said U, looking forlornly at Q’s empty work station.
W soon realized that it and K would be asked to take on Q’s workload. But then came the next hammer blow, the announcement that K was next out the door.
Everyone was shocked at this development. Surely, the thinking went, C was more vulnerable, having borrowed its sound from K and sometimes S, without a natural sound of its own. But, said management, C would abandon its S uses and take on all of K’s duties. Some speculated that C was saved because of the copyright symbol – money trumps fairness in all things – or because comic Stephen Colbert, whose TV desk was in the shape of a giant C, had too much undue influence. Some, though, were fine with the decision. “We can’t have children reciting their ‘ABDs,’” said L.
While the remaining letters mourned the loss of K, the next shoe dropped – Y was gone.
This development flummoxed the vowels, which had smugly assumed that they were untouchables, even a “sometimes” vowel like Y. I and E felt guilty for assuming many of Y’s end-of-word diminutive duties – why couldn’t they have allowed Y to have “selfie”? – and U tried to deflect responsibility for Y’s demise. “Hey, it wasn’t me that decided to spell ‘you’ as ‘u,’” said U.
By the end, X, J and even Z, the coolest of all letters, had been shown the door, causing the Scrabble community to explode in outrage. But instead of protesting to management, the letters only complained among themselves. P, always the peacemaker, asked if there might be room in the budget for a few diacritical marks to help the letters with their workload. “An accent or tilde wouldn’t cost that much, would it?” asked P.
Some insinuated that A, being first, should file a formal protest to someone. But that only brought up the injustices of alphabetical order, a very sore subject with this crowd. A said, with obvious jealousy, that E, with its gaudy 12.7 percent usage rate, was the only one with the juice to stop further lay-offs. E just shrugged and went about its business.
H was the only letter that explicitly considered resignation. It was already working with S, C and W to form unique sounds and now it was being asked to team up with D to simulate J’s sounds. “It’s just so unfair,” H moaned. “Just because my sound is the softest doesn’t mean I’m not working hard.”
Management, of course, gave no explanation and neither was it responding to any complaints. When it announced that the silent E at the end of words would also be phased out, a chill ran through the office. Even mighty E was not above the squeeze.
This must be serious.