Citing a lack of respect from the literary community, the last three letters of the alphabet have announced their intention to secede. X, Y, and Z released a statement:
For too long we accepted the status quo, relegated to the end of every list, and lumped together in one index tab. In the digital age, we must all stand up and be counted!
We reject the negative connotations assigned to X—the false air of mystery, the inferior brand, and the louche content. We regard the supposed ambiguity of Y—it is a vowel or a consonant?—as a crude attempt to impose a binary dialectic on a multivalent dynamic. And we protest the assumption that there is something funny about Z.
Together, we make up over ten percent of the alphabet. As an under-represented minority, we hereby call out the bourgeois majority. A bright future lies ahead for the three who pursue independence. For the twenty-three letters who choose to remain, the same old thing.
The numbers 0 through 9 have stated no position on the impending split, though they often appear with X, Y and Z in algebra. X already does double duty as the multiplication symbol. The signs +, -, =, <, >, and / are likely to follow the numbers. How will the many punctuation marks, accents, and diacritical signs react?
Some in the mainstream alphabet were quick to point out that while relatively few words Boucheron / XYZ / 2 begin with X, Y and Z, the letters occur within words.
“They play a vital role,” D said.
Proper names should be taken into account, and those that begin with one of the three are all the more memorable. On the other hand, one letter that comes “at or near” the beginning of the alphabet dismissed the announcement by the seldom-used letters. Speaking off the record, this popular vowel noted:
“We don’t need those guys. For spelling they’re deadwood, totally redundant. X can be replaced by KS, and Y is just a fancy-pants version of I. If they want to go off and do their own thing, I say good riddance.”
What about Z? The letter made a raspberry and turned away.
Logistical hurdles stand in the way of secession—millions of keyboards, existing texts, and sets of children’s blocks. And who would pay for new signage?
Reached for comment, W urged caution. If and when the letters depart, W will be in an exposed position, cut off at the end. Already, it is closely associated with X, Y and Z in address books and pocket references. Less forceful than letters such as P and T, the semi-consonant notes that it has suffered the same criticism leveled at Y, since it acts as a vowel after E and O:
“I’ve been accused of being a diphthong.”
Q also is sympathetic to the plight of XYZ. With its distinctive “queue” or tail, and a pedigree reaching back to ancient Roman inscriptions, Q said:
“As a minority letter myself, I know how it feels to be overlooked and undervalued. If I didn’t have U constantly at my side, helping to make sense of it all, where would I be? The things they say about X could just as well apply to me. But think for a minute. If I retired, and KW took my place, how would that look?”
As for inconsistent pronunciation, Z adds: “There is plenty of blame to spread around. G can be hard or soft, K is often silent, and we all know about intervocalic S. Long and short vowels?
Don’t get me started!”
A possible mediator in the contretemps is the letter H. Known to be slightly left of center, H is a frequent collaborator with C, P, S, and T. It enables them to produce sounds that no single letter can manage on its own. In a similar role, the soft-spoken consonant has been spotted with Z. The couple is as seductive to some ears as the letter J in French.
Reticent as ever, H declined an interview for this story. In an email, however, it replied to a suggestion that X, Y and Z are engaged in a ploy for attention, a political stunt:
“My colleagues on the far right deserve public recognition for their valuable contributions over the years. They may have a point about the old order and entrenched values. Everyone deserves a fair shake. What is so sacred about the ABCs?”
Robert Boucheron grew up in Syracuse and Schenectady, New York. From 1978 to 2016, he worked as an architect in New York City and Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, New Haven Review, Poydras Review, The Short Story, and other magazines.