Thursday, June 18, 2015


The more unusual a letter is the more attention it calls to itself, and thus the less useful it becomes. The letter J has this problem like crazy. But I hesitate to criticize J too severely because it is the first letter of my first name after all. In fact, it is the first letter of many people's names, first and last. It appears at the beginning of names all the time—you probably know several in your own circle of friends and family. Take a moment to think. That just appears to be the milieu that J prefers. Months, for example: June, July, January. There it is again. Or consider Judy Johnson, who fell in love with Jacob Jesperson. Together they had a large family, who in turn married and had families of their own: Jimmy, Joseph, Jamie, Julia, Jasmine the elder and Jasmine the younger (technically, a cousin), Johnny Boy, Jaden "the Jukebox," Jan, Jennifer, Jacob Jr. of course, Jason (a juvenile delinquent, sadly), Jessica, actually two more Jasons plus another Jessica, Jesse (a boy), Jesse (a girl), Josie, Josh, Jacqueline known as "Jackie," Jay, and little Jago. You remember that song you used to sing around the campfire about John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt? It should have been Jones for the last name, and I think you know why. But nonetheless J is a squishy thing, taking on the exhalation of the H at times and otherwise requiring a complicated coordination of vocal sound with a specific positioning of jaw and tongue and a forward-thrusting motion that produces something like a brief vibrating hum. The primary function of J is already covered by the soft G (as in "judge") or as mentioned by the H. It's silent in a word like "marijuana" or perhaps, arguably, poses as a W in such roles (the consonant W, for those inclined to believe W is also a sometimes vowel). Speaking of marijuana, a J at one time was a joint, or marijuana cigarette; perhaps it still is in some places. Pass me the J, man. It's also a predatory bird with a striking, severe, and handsome profile, colored blue. Still and all, I keep coming back to this one detail. Why is J such a popular initial—something about the sound, perhaps? The proximity to vain I? Because it is available as a relatively unused letter? After all, it sits way down in the lowly position of #23 on the ranking of letter frequency, and brother, that is low. Because it is such an important letter in my signature I had to choose at some point, perhaps about age 12, between the very different printed and cursive forms of the capital. At first I went with the loopy balloon cursive, but ultimately I settled on the printed fishhook shape, decorating it with the handsome crossbar over the top which gives it so much panache. It's a relatively unusual letter, except for all those names in the Jesperson clan.

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