Thursday, May 28, 2015


With the letter G we reach the end of the musical scale, but most of the alphabet is still ahead, and that's something to sing about. G is another of the consonants that presumes more than a single sound to itself. There is the "soft" G, which sounds like a J, as in "judge" (and an even softer G found in "rouge"). And there is the "hard" G, a sound only this letter makes, which is a vocalized swallowing sound, a kind of spasm of regurgitation, as in "gulp." Go to the phrase "beige garage" for a look at this busy letter in action. Pretend "garage" is a verb and you can go "garaging" for a look at another sound G gets itself involved in, in combination with N. This sound is fairly common in English (it's right there in the name of the language, you see, and even in the word "language" itself), as among other things it denotes the gerund form: singing, bringing, binging (wait a sec). As with so many letters (e.g., F, X), G has found a way to be sexualized, in this case by its association with a woman's so-called G-spot, the mysterious source of non-clitoral orgasms. (Side issue: Does "orgasm" count as onomatopoeia?) G is certainly related to babies, who by reputation are always saying, "goo goo, gah gah," though I suspect relatively little documentary evidence exists for this. It is thus elemental and profoundly human, though it also seems somehow negligible. There are also times when it sits there and goes silent, as in "gnat," or "gnostic." K and P also volunteer for this psychological unknowable "function," whatever it is. And then there is the pact of silence G also holds with H, as in "right." And it can also makes an F sound, again when combined with H, as in "laugh." When does this letter sleep? In many type fonts the lowercase G is among the most beautiful of all letters, with its sense of the descender as a kind of liquid coiling pool. For all the work that it does, G doesn't have much significance on its own. Well, sometimes it can mean "thousands," in terms of money, viz., "That new boat set me back nearly 80 Gs." Astronauts seem to like G too, the way they talk about their peculiar intimacies with gravitational forces. Somehow the letter seems just a little old-fashioned now. Gee ... golly gee ... gosh golly gee ... gosh golly gee whiz, and so on. Poor little old-fashioned G, a letter already set back too far in the alphabet to distinguish easily. No one gets a G in class, and no one anywhere needs to know their GHIs. From here on out letters are more and more going to depend on the sequencing of the alphabet for their immediate identities. The second line of the alphabet in the form I learned it is FGHIJK. It's the only line with six letters; all the rest have five, probably because I and J are reasonably thin, even when they are capitalized. By contrast, G is among the biggest of all letters, so go figure.

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