Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”

Note from the Supreme Senior Editor: The following document was recently submitted to The Journal of Completely Correct and Characteristically Competent Papers for peer review and publication. Even the most sophomoric and—pardon my language—undergraduate of readers should immediately deduce the reason for its rejection.


In this decade’s strangest scholarly discovery, a previously unknown page of the late-tenth-century Exeter Book was recently found among the collection of books strewn across a Kalamazoo graduate student’s library carrel. Like many other pages in the codex, it contains a riddle from the point of view of an inanimate object. The poem does, however, display substantive differences from most of the Exeter riddles. For example, the poet seems to be familiar not only with hospitals and the relative atomic weight of hydrogen and but also with Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Greek letter eta, and the relationship between rocks and lava. (There is also the minor oddity of its being in Modern English, which developed several centuries after the book’s composition.)

While bitterly cynical skeptics and devotees of William of Ockham may be tempted to dismiss this momentous find as an obvious and rather juvenile hoax, the document’s authenticity has been incontrovertibly verified through all available scientific processes. The only possible explanation is that, in a stunning new revelation that will certainly rewrite the foundations of  Anglo-Saxon studies, one of the Exeter Book’s scribes was a time-traveling, etymology-obsessed chemist with a passion for geology and contemporary American road signs.


Three sticks make me,     but mostly I’m breath,

Meaningful wind     from a word-speaker’s mouth.

The song-namers     stopped before me.

Test-scorers,     lest terror be unleashed,

Stop much sooner.    Sometimes I name

Five-dozen sixties,     a sign to healing,

Water’s ingredient,     weight-smallest.

Alone, I heave, hum,     hem and haw

But with a friend    I furnish new sounds:

I chortle and thunder,     chuckle, whistle, laugh.

I came from the islands     of olives and thinkers—

There I was voiced,     a victor of verse.

But my name has changed since,     and my sound likewise.

Longer ago,     I looked like a fence.

Books say that then    I bore my new sound.

But I forget     that ancient time:

Such is my nature.          


                                   I know old tales

Only so long     as living breath tells them.

When scrawled or scratched    on the skin of a beast

Or the earth’s frozen     entrails, or the flesh

Of a leaf-maker,     then I last longer.

Through the eyes     I exit the lips

Of a new bard,    a babe in books.

But still I fade,     as fade all things

That moths and storms    steal away from those

Who breathe and write,     break and change

Beneath the eye     of the All-father.

Say what I am called.


Photo by Flickr user Per Se; original image available here

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