When they were putting together the English alphabet, the letter X got the short end of his two sticks. Rumor has it he showed up late – along with Y and Z – and the threesome almost didn’t make the alphacut. But that would have left us with 23 letters and important words and phrases such as, “Yes,” “Excuse me” and “Zamboni” would have been impossibilities, so the latecomers merely got pushed to the end of the line.
A, being the type of personality he is, showed up the night before and camped out on the sidewalk in a tent (an A-frame) to be assured the first place in line. In a stroke of added luck, he, along with the letter I, received authorization to be not only letters but complete words. A privilege to be sure; I thought so.
Inexplicably, latecomer Y was identified as having exceptional talents due to his ability to balance on one leg and was moved to the front of the line. This initiated a protest from F, T and V whose fervent pleas were downplayed as being those of the noisy minority.
Because of his demonstrated flexibility during the shift change, the alphabet gods awarded Y the title of both consonant and vowel, a distinction unknown to any other letter. Y, being the ever-questioning yahoo he is, didn’t see his double duty status as a benefit and started yammering about it being extra work. He demanded overtime pay, causing B, C and D to push him back to the end of the alphabet, whereby Y retaliated by catching a few ZZZ’s, or maybe by playing catch with Z.
Double duties aside, A, I and sometimes Y will never be as popular as E, who is the most commonly used letter in the entire elphabet (E’s preferred spelling). She is effective and efficient and makes her efforts look easy and enjoyable not to mention entertaining. Which brings us back to the unexalted and less-than-extolled X. For centuries, X has been enamored with E, finding her presence intoxicating. Unfortunately for X, E has an independent streak. She finds his attentiveness exhausting and isn’t buying into X’s extreme tactics. E’s evasiveness often makes X cross.
Despite their differences, the two are frequently seen together, although E tries to extricate herself from the situation whenever possible. She can’t afford to be exposed publicly with what she refers to as X’s excess baggage.
While E and X seem to have found a love-hate partnership that works for them, other letters are much less likely to consort with one another. The letter grouping WKW, for instance, is used almost solely by radio stations because using the sequence in a word would be, well, awkward.
Things could be worse for X, but I’m not sure how. While not the least used letter (that honor goes to Z), X is allotted the smallest space in my Webster’s New World Dictionary – half a page. This is one-fourth as much as the next least popular letter, which logic would dictate is Z, but instead is J, which doesn’t make sense, but if the English language always made sense sword would rhyme with word, daughter with laughter and war with car. Kernel would sound nothing like colonel and B would be banned from words like “climb” and “subtle.”
All bologna aside, our friend does have a few claims to fame. X-ray vision puts the “super” in Superman. Hugs wouldn’t be the same without kisses at the end of a note or email. Deer couldn’t cross the road without X, and tic tac toe wouldn’t be the game without him. The same goes for X marks the spot, even though the opportunity to peruse pirate maps and search for buried treasure is becoming more rare and isn’t likely to change – unless Johnny Depp agrees to another sequel.
And, while we might go a whole day or two without giving X a second thought, we shouldn’t take him for granted. When you stop to ponder the twenty-fourth letter of the alphabet, you’ll realize we all owe our very being to him. Because without our own XX or XY, we’d simply cease to exist.