Thursday, September 17, 2015


The letter N is a simple and solid consonant, as plain as the brown earth, representing basically only one sound and a sound that no other letter approximates or mimics. Well, oh, wait a second. There is also the "ng" formation, a kind of vocalized choking noise emulating the sounds G and N might make if they were having sex. Oh, wait, yes, note: this also applies with K, as in "thunk." Which is the sound my head makes on my desktop every time I attempt these catalogs. Because I just remembered the shenanigans N gets up to with K, G, and who knows what other letters, I can't think about it now I'm in a bit of a bad mood. I'm speaking, of course, of the so-called silent letter. Know what I mean, gnat? Can we think about this for a second? The silent letter—the silent letter? Aren't we supposed to be talking about speech here?! What are these silent letters doing all over the place?! It just makes me feel so negative. The primary sound of N is made with a vocalized pushing of the tongue to the roof of the mouth. It is similar to M, a tender grunt made with closed lips. The vocalizing enables either to be elongated at will, viz., "hmm," a feat that B, D, and other vocalized consonants can't do. But M and N are easily distinguished—one involves a compression of the lips, and the other the tongue as described above. Alphabet makers must have seen some similarity, if they put them next to one another and made their shapes so similar, even including the parallel hump shapes of the lowercases, which I neglected to mention before. The letter N is the first letter in the second half of the alphabet—and it's a long way home from here, baby. Sometimes, like a sandwich made with apostrophes, it represents "and" all on its own, e.g., "well, get in that kitchen / make some noise with the pots 'n' pans." But the letter N may be most famous now for its general air of rejection: no, non, nyet, nope, negatory, N/A, nope, nuh-uh, no way, naw I don't think so, and so forth. Compare Y. Children express negation by chanting "na-na-na" at one another. Later, as adults, they will do the same by calling one another nihilists. In scientific and mathematical formulation n is the ultimate cipher, a focal point of expression, that which we solve for. I read an article once about shopping for computers and it advised looking for the best deals at the "n - 1" level of technology, where n represented the present state of the art and "n - 1" the state of the art just before that. Some very good deals on machines there still, if you understand the market. But do I understand the market these days? I think I would have to say N.

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