With the fate of PBS, Sesame Street, and, indeed, Big Bird’s very life hanging in the balance, I’ve felt motivated to share with you just a little bit of what that program inspired in me as a child. I’m a lover of language, and, like many of you, some of my first schooling on it came from the likes of Big Bird and his associates. So, rather than fire off a charged political diatribe about the ridiculous notion of cutting funding for public television, I will instead profess my admiration and adoration for my favourite letter of the alphabet, my favourite sound in the English language, the K.
K is the most unappreciated letter in the English alphabet. Oh, sure, there are some other ones that get used even less, but none of them are subject to quite the same humiliating fate as the letter K. That hard K sound is a driving force of the language, not to mention one of the most entertaining aspects of it. Just say it. Right now. See how much fun it is. Here, read this aloud:
“Clank” “conk” “kook” “crook” “kink” “let’s drink cognac to our capacity” “climb aboard this crazy contraption, we’ll crank it completely to cruising speed and colour the countryside with our carousing.”
But wait! Many of those words I just had you say aloud (thanks for doing that, by the way. Wasn’t it fun?) were C words, not K words, weren’t they?! No. They weren’t. This is one of the tragedies that has befallen the stoic K. K is resigned to the role of playing second chair to C. We get to say the K sound a lot in common conversation but more often than not it’s a C that we’re actually saying. But wait again! C also gets that softer S sound (which it shares with the actual S, but I don’t think anyone can claim that either C or S is a very overlooked letter) as in “certain” “suspicious” or “cesspool”. And it gets even more widespread use with its partner H. As an added insult, we have many words like “kick” and “rock” that seem to suggest that K can’t do its job alone and needs the C there to help.
In short, the letter C is a hideously deformed narcissist with an identity crisis who remains popular and gets all the attention because she wears lots of makeup, dresses provocatively and goes to the clubs every weekend, and K is her much more beautiful sister who hides it away under drab sweaters and bookish glasses.
Not only is K a lot of fun to say, but it can also be a very commanding sound:
“Come over here, kid, and knock me a kiss.”
Ah, and that brings us to yet another blow that the world has dealt the letter K. The silent K. Not since G and H hooked up has there been a more thankless supporting role for a letter to play. I wonder, not if, but how much K regrets the day she met that scurrilous N. But K is too classy to break away now that she’s committed, and will go on playing the supportive part. We can all do our share though, if we choose to. Next time you say “know” or “knife” or “knead” throw in the K sound at the beginning. You may sound like a complete knucklehead, but K deserves the recognition.
Let’s not forget how much punch K adds to our most vile of insults, too. When you really want to show someone how much you dislike them, what do you call them? A douchebag? Maybe. but that doesn’t have quite the impact of something like “dick” or “cocksucker” or “cunt”. What do you think makes “fuck” such a visceral word? Now, I’m not promoting the use of curse words by any means, but if the situation warrants it, you can’t do any better than K for that extra bit of KAPOW.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that whatever the fate of that whimsical street down PBS way, keep its spirit alive. Always love language. Always be learning. Be informed about what you say and write. Learn the difference between your and you’re. Be proud of your vocabulary. Remember that some of your first and most lasting friends are K and Q and M and even that horrid little C. Know them well, because they’ll open doors for you and introduce you to new people.
And, K, if you’re listening, maybe I don’t say this enough, but I love you. I’m notin love with you, though. Sorry, I guess I probably led you on a bit with all this.