Thursday, December 10, 2015


Y has a lot to yell about, I'd be lying if I told you any different. Yes, it has a personality crisis, but who doesn't? The fact is it's both a consonant and a vowel, though who thought this was a good idea is unclear. It is a consonant in words such as "yellow," "yuck," and "yes," where it approximates the J sound but without the tongue involved. Because of its association with yes, perhaps, it's taken as a generally upbeat noise to make, as in "yay," "yahoo," and "yippee." Interestingly, in "yay" (an "informal word"), we happen to see both functions of Y, though it is here more on the order of another blasted silent letter, inflecting the "a" to make it long. A better example is "xylophone," where it represents the long I. We don't know why, but I have to admit "why" is a much better-looking word than "whi" or "whei." Aiyiyi. Even doing this freakish double duty, Y still only manages to make #18 on the ranked list of most frequently used letters, just behind G, just ahead of P. Apparently somebody somewhere calculated it and determined that Y is more often a consonant and only "sometimes" a vowel. Or perhaps that is because its uniqueness is found in its consonant function, whereas the vowel only tends to mimic variations on E, I, and whatever it is doing in words like "joy" and "decoy." Y stands for some of the things we most treasure: yes, youth, and yesterday—even better, make that yesteryear. Also "you"—even though U certainly also has fair claim to the, er, "objectified other." The consonant Y opens naturally into loud vocal eruption from the diaphragm, heading up words such as "yell," "yelp," "yowl," "yodel," and "yargh"—not all sounds of pain, I assure you. Chronic alphabetizers know already that Y is the last sad little bump in the alphabet. Not many things begin with X or Z and Y usually matches or outdoes them in an index. Still, T and W would probably have to be counted as the last alphabetical urban outposts of any size. But Y always stubbornly makes a dent. This reminds me. Have you seen the movie Yi Yi? It's really good. The word "yawn" is associated with Y's consonant function. Maybe you're yawning now, because that's how yawns work, the more you see or hear the word (or the yawning itself) the more you want to yawn. Y obviously pairs with N. Do I have to explain that? Y / N (circle one). Y also has a profound relation (marked by decorative crossbars) to yen, the Japanese currency. I'd like to make a joke about Yugoslavia but nothing about Yugoslavia is funny. In German, by the way, J is assigned Y's consonant function, and the mouth noise is again associated with the assenting: yes and ja (or, for you Germans, yes und ja). That's Y all over for you! You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, a vowel.

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