Thursday, September 03, 2015


The letter L is impressively rational—represents one sound only (though woe to the Spanish when it is doubled), which no other letter represents. But it's interesting to me that the sound is not itself universal to all languages. At least one of the major Asian languages, Chinese or Japanese, does not use it, and attempting to teach it to adult speakers tends to produce the predictable comical results. To me, it seems a very natural sound, but when I start attempting to describe the mouth mechanics required to produce it I realize it's a bit complex after all, what with getting your tongue just so behind the front teeth. It's vocalized and it is also infinite, which we have seen so far among the consonants only with F and H, both largely unvocalized. It's easier to control the volume of the L than the surprisingly noisy hissing S. I think part of my brain is wired to appreciate the distinction between L and S because I'm abnormally sensitive to the shades of meaning between "continual" and "continuous," and have a decided preference for situations involving the former, although it's not the continuity of the sounds but the definitions that are my reason. It's like another peeve, over the word "disinterest," a similar cases of a nice connotation swamped and overrun now by bludgeoning, over-simple usage. But now we are afield of our friend the letter L. I'll tell you who else likes L and get prepared to be impressed. None other than Superman himself—yes, that's right, Kal-El of the planet Krypton, son of Jor-El and Lara. He had a thing for L the way I have a thing for K—Superman's two favorite women were Lois Lane and Lana Lang and his deadliest archenemy was Lex Luthor. Note also that his mother's name is Lara and his last name appears to be El. Now that I think about it for a second, however, why would anyone look for the sign of the L in an archenemy? Well, L is also for losers, as we all know (first finger and thumb against forehead), and Superman was usually helping some of them out, so that's probably part of the explanation too (but I'm not even sure Brainiac gets this one). I like the way L takes the 90-degree lower-left corner of a box shape, direct and no-frills, although pronunciation of the letter itself would seem to have some qualities of the frilly. Making people flip their tongues around like that. It's a good-time letter, blending seamlessly with others such as B, C, and F (and not at all, in the second position, with D, M, or N). Combining consonants with L in the first position is slightly more problematic, but done: half (oops, that's one of those mysterious "silent letters" again, isn't it? kind of like an "irrational" number), talcum (two distinct syllables there, as in "almost," so perhaps doesn't count), alms, kiln, bulb, etc. And yes, I just remembered that combining form in words like "double" and "bubble." By and large an honest workmanlike letter. Indeed, the idea of letters itself must have liked L so much that it took L for the first letter in the word "letter." LOL

1 comment:

  1. Remarkable that you could lavish so much attention on the letter 'L' w/out so much as one mention of the word love. Or learning. Or lying. I like how you did that.