Friday, November 18, 2011

The Poor Letter X

I feel a little sorry for the letter X. Of course it’s as well known as its more popular brothers and sisters, but poor old X just doesn’t have much of a home.

I was flipping through my mom’s dictionary the other day. She’s into this word game with her friend Joanne. It’s called Quiddler. It’s sort of like Scrabble, but you play with cards. Anyway, you declare words and lay down cards when you have them and your opponent can check your words to see if they indeed exist.

My mom said there is a word xi. Now my mom has taught me the art of speaking with authority as a way to convince someone of your accuracy (even when you could be bluffing). Because I am on to her game, I had to look up the word to be sure myself. Sure enough, xi is a real word. According to Webster’s, not only is xi the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet (I should have known that I suppose but I was never in a fraternity), it is also an unstable element of the baryon family existing in negative and neutral charged states, with masses respectively 2585 and 2572 times the mass of an electron.

And that’s the thing about X, most of the words are so obscure that no one ever uses them. Oh sure, you’ve got x-ray and its derivatives (x-ray astronomy, x-ray diffraction, etc.) which account for 9 of the X words. And you’ve got your xylophone, the percussion instrument made of different sized wooden bars. It’s a very pretty sounding instrument, we had one when we were kids. But all of the rest of the X words are almost never really used in conversation – unless you’re some kind of scientist I suppose. But without x-ray and xylophone, what would we even be able to put on the picture alphabet cards in our early childhood classrooms? And when you read the definition of many of the X words, you have to look up even more words in those definitions to understand them. That's not really fair.

When was the last time you used xanthic in casual speech? It has a red squiggly line under it for goodness sakes. Doesn’t my Mac realize that xanthic means of, relating to, or tending toward a yellow color? Or how about xanthrochroi? (Another squiggly red line, by the way.) It’s a noun meaning white persons having light hair and fair skin. Could you possibly see xanthrochroi on an alphabet card in a Kindergarten classroom? Believe me, that is one of the only likely contenders for the ABC cards compared to the rest of the X’s.

I am not sure that X should even have regular letter status. It’s more like a letter-territory than a letter-state. Or maybe a letter-district, as in the District of Columbia. It is certainly there holding down the 24th spot in the alphabet, but is it really a letter? I mean even Rhode Island has people in it. When I counted, X only started 84 different words and some of them are sort of cheating words like Xe (for the element Xenon – that’s an abbreviation, right?) and xingmarked with the letter X. Those are not even really definitions. And X-mas (probably the third most commonly used “word” for X) is only a lazy person’s (or non-Christian’s) way of writing Christmas. And Xerox is really a proper noun like Kleenex or Tampax (hey, 2 more words with x’s), but it had to make it into the dictionary because there just are so few X’s. They have to put something on those one-and-one-quarter pages.

So here’s a little quiz for you. I’ll give you 5 words with definitions. See how many you can match up.

(A) – xeric (B) – xiphosuran (C) – xylan

(D) - xylophagous (E) – xylotomous

1. 1) 1) feeding on or in wood

2. 2) 2) a yellow gummy pentosan, abundantly present in plant cell walls

3. 3) 3) any of an order of arthropods, comprising the horseshoe crabs and extinct related forms

4. 4) 4) requiring only a small amount of moisture

5. 5) 5) capable of boring or cutting wood.

I guess we’re so used to having those precious 26 that it would seem silly to demote poor old X just because it really doesn’t have many members. Thank goodness for xylophone and x-ray. But just think how cool it would be to have 25 REAL letters in the alphabet. 25 is a perfect square (5 x 5). It’s a quarter of a hundred. Everyone can remember 25. It’d be like having the 50 states. I’m just saying.

(A) = 4 (B) = 3 (C) = 2 (D) = 1 (E) = 5


Mrs. Hass' Class said...

How cruel, you didn't give the answers to your quiz! Two definitions had to do with wood and two of the answers began with xylo- so I'm guessing those ones match up. Xeric (an adverb?)sounds like something that would match a phrase such as "Requiring only...", as in "It's xeric so you won't need to add much." That left me with xylan and xiphosuran. Which would be present in a plant cell? That's a toss up but I think I'd take xiphosuran. It sounds like something I might have slept through in high school biology.

Maybe when they demoted Pluto they should have gone ahead and done the same with X. You're right - it's a stupid letter. Maybe it'll be the very thing I hate when reaching X on my A...B...C list. Nah, I actually know what it will be.

I hope your doing well. Check your AOL e-mail. I sent you an e-mail since we couldn't chat before school. Who else can I share meaningless thoughts, rants, and observations with? (By the way, today's topic would be: How I may have accidentally ruined the tooth fairy for a bunch of seven year olds).

Chris Hass said...

Oops. I was using the family computer which was obviously logged on as Tricia's class blog.