Thursday, September 10, 2015


I get the impression that the letter M is particularly popular among Roman numeralist mavens, especially those in the motion picture industry, who have spent something close to a century confusing us with copyright dates. Perhaps it was all worth it when the year 2000 finally arrived with that elegant formulation of "MM." Small consolation, but incidentally reminds me of the attempted promotion of M&M candies at the same time, which seemed like a natural for the new millennium but somehow never managed to take off. Maybe people just aren't that much into Roman numerals? The NFL finally figured it out with its idiotic Super Bowl numbering. As for the candy name, that finds its source in the business collaboration between Forrest Mars, Sr., who was the son of Mars candy company founder Frank C. Mars, and Bruce Murrie, who was the son of Hershey's principal William F.R. Murrie. That's an awful lot of chocolate, M, and class privilege there. M is the 13th letter of the alphabet, standing in as the termination of the first half. When I realized sometime recently that the postal abbreviation for my home state of Minnesota, MN, actually thus spans the two halves of the alphabet, it struck me as one more conceptual bifurcation of the area and my origins. MN, after all, straddles the Mississippi River at the center of the continent, and has radio stations with call letters starting with both K and W. Perhaps most obviously there is the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also, more personally, in a kind of primal ur-bifurcation, two specific western suburbs of Minneapolis: Minnetonka, which provided my family's mailing address, and Hopkins, whose schools I attended. There were clear class divisions between the traditional, garden-style suburb of Minnetonka, formerly a resort, and the small town of Hopkins, which skewed more working class, swallowed by encroaching big city growth. But that is a topic for another time, this bifurcation. We're supposed to be talking about M here. M is more or less a natural letter. Compress the lips, sound the vocal cords—what could be easier or more primal? In fact, the sound appears to be among the first grasped at all, associated with "mama," often one of the first words learned or spoken. As an aside, I have known people to train dogs to say the word. What's interesting to me in those cases is that even though the lip movements and vocal sounds are fairly good at imitating the sound of the word, it rarely registers as a dog saying a word. The intentionality or something is missing. If anything, however, that's more likely a problem with the vowel than the consonant. Those dogs are getting the letter M right. Speaking of growling, please don't remind me of the baseball team the Seattle Mariners, often commonly known as the Ms. They are hard at work competing for status as the worst team in all baseball history, and as such they are putting this letter into a terribly embarrassing predicament. Not even M, I suspect, can get behind the Ms. And I do not blame it.


  1. Speaking of "growling," don't forget the rockcritical Wholly Trinity of Marcus, Meltzer, and Marsh. Which is your favorite?
    Submitted by Richard Riegel, whose middle name begins with "M" (hint: it's the same as my Grandfather Riegel's middle handle.)

  2. Ha oh yes the 3M of rock critics: "Innovation." I guess I probably go Marcus, Marsh, Meltzer, but what a match-up, have had infatuations with them all. I will have to remember to mention Xgau when I get to X. Thanks Richard!