Thursday, October 15, 2015


It's clear no letter of the alphabet is more approved by pirates, but R has much more going for it as well. It's ranked #8 overall for frequency of use—#4 among consonants, after only T, N, and S. In English it is primarily a growling noise, with the tongue flipped back in the mouth to texture the vocalization (an "alveolar approximant," in the argot of linguistics). But in other languages, such as Spanish, it takes on a rolling, purring, motorized sound called trilling, which I have never been able to make, just as I never learned to stick two fingers in my mouth and make a piercing whistle. I don't see these as flaws, particularly as I don't speak Spanish, but yes, the potential for problems is there. R is tucked pretty far down there, as the 18th letter of the alphabet—it's 18, I just don't know what to say. Now that we are so deep into the alphabet, do individual letters even have distinct personalities anymore? That is our course of inquiry, you see, and the obvious answer is yes, of course they do. But the workhorses that make up the majority of letters in this tray of the alphabet as I learned it, namely Q, R, S, T, and U, are mostly too busy representin' and performing extremely important stitching-together language work, notably R, S, and T (and with the notable exception of Q, as previously discussed). U is a vowel—as with pitchers on baseball teams, the numbers favor the impact of vowels as single units over the everyday players that are the consonants. Vowels have to be considered separately. The bailiwick of R includes a primitive one-upmanship function of making everything better—bigger, faster, more wonderfuller—just by showing up at the ends of adjectives (with E and doubling consonants as needed). If you think that's great I'll tell you it's greater, and I'll be growling too, because that's the way R rolls. R is always going to be one step ahead of you, at least until S and T combine to stop the greater quarrel, and make it the definitive greatest. Working with verbs, R makes nouns with admirable work ethics: doer, thinker, farmer, and (the greatest of them all) writer. In mathematics, R represents the set of all so-called real numbers ("real numbers"—never mind). R also works part-time as a warning to parents (and red flag to adolescents) about certain movies. I have always respected R as a utility player in the alphabet, such are its many faceless powers—how can you not? But as a handwritten letter, printed or cursive, capitalized or lowercase, it is somehow always a nuisance to make and never quite looks the way it should. For the sake of R's dignity, it's a good thing there's typing.


  1. Yeah, students area always having problems w/ my cursive R's.

  2. The secret to making your R's (printed, cursive, whatever) look the way they should is to 1) begin life with both given and family names that start with "R"; and 2) utilize all the opportunities that come your way to print, write, and/or inscribe your double-R-bar name everywhere you can for the next 60+ years. My mother, who had an alliterative birth name herself (though with D's) saw to that, and fixed me with legible R's for life. "Making everything better" since 1946, yours, Richard Riegel