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

In the second grade, I was fairly certain that the only two words in the English language that started with an X were xylophone and x-ray. I blame this deficiency on the various alphabetic spreads running above classroom whiteboards, each a twenty-six square parade of large, bold-face letters and colorful drawings/glossy photographs of phonetically-associated objects. And while A could be for apple or ant or acorn or airplane, X was only ever for xylophone or x-ray—or, as was the case in my second-grade classroom’s animal-themed poster, for x-ray fish. (An adequate choice, though I personally find X is for Xantus’s hummingbird far more compelling.)

The “X is for xylophone/x-ray” homogeny was not the most pressing diversity concern at my West Michigan elementary school, so I suppose classroom decorators can be excused for any unimaginative linguistic pairings. And while it is completely understandable that xylophones and x-rays make up a disproportionate number of the RHSs of the “X is for” equation, it is somewhat lamentable.

X is not the least frequently used letter in the English alphabet; depending on who you ask and how you count, it is either the third- or forth-least common letter (other bottom finishers include Q, Z, and sometimes J). It is, however, the letter least frequently used to begin an English word. When words begin with X, they are often brand names (Xfinity, Xbox), or else so technically specific (xanthine, xylography) that they barely count. Some disciplines have more use for X; it seems especially popular in the hard sciences and car manufacturers’ marketing departments.

So X is for Xerox and xenocryst, but it’s also for the rest of us. X is for kisses. X is for porn. X is your signature and where you sign. X is for Professor X and his X-Men (“for EX-tra power!”). X is for the X-Games and the winner in tic-tac-toe. X multiplies and makes Power Puff Girls and marks the spot (except that it doesn’t). X is for chromosomes and beer, for how you personalize a gamertag and tell J.K. Rowling you really would have preferred it if Harry had ended up with Draco.

X is for Xanax. X is for xenophobia and comets of unknown origin. X is for dead rappers and dead human rights activists and dead stick figure eyes. X is for a good score in bowling and a  bad reality-TV song contest. X covers up mistakes. X is for XML and xkcd (are you one of today’s lucky ten-thousand?). X is for Christ and the cross, for medieval monks saving a dime on parchment and conservative Christians rallying to keep the X out of Christmas. X is for MDMA. X is for intersex and non-binary. X is for ten. X is for in-between.

X is for variables and axes. X is for the unknown.

I’m starting to sound like a spoken word poem. But X isn’t that profound. X is just for everything, and nothing. (It’s possible I’ve been thinking about X for too long.)

That’s probably why X is just for xylophone.

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