Fools and their alphabets are copiously parted
R for mo, R for Askey, R for English, R for bitter. That was it. No upmarket ones at all
Thursday 07 January 1999
I should have known, but didn't, that this alphabet is the basis of a Sebastian Faulks novel called A Fool's Alphabet and is in fact given in full (I am told by several readers) on page 42. But many of you reported variations. When we stopped yesterday we had got to H, and now we come to the letter I which my father said was for Ivor Novello, as indeed Faulks does. But other people think differently.
I. Ivor Emmanuel. Ivor Cutler. I for looting (high-falutin). I for an eye. I for a pretty girl.
J. J is just about the only letter on which everyone agrees, apart from X: Jaffa oranges.
K. From the days when "kaffir" was a common word, plenty of people remember being told that it was K for kraal, K for farmer, and so on. There was also the oddly English pronunciation of "cafe" as "kafe", hence K for restaurant. The most popular by far was K for answers (Kay Francis, a once famous film actress of whom I had never heard).
L. Most of us prefer L for Leather but there is also L for goblin (elf or goblin), L for Romeo and L for happiness. (How about L for Beta Gamma Delta?)
M. Emphasis or Emphasise is the clear favourite. I was also offered M forever blowing bubbles, which is novel; Emphysema, which is clever; and M for cream sherry, which is puzzling till you remember Emva was a make of sherry. Or was it Enva? In which case it should be in...
N. Lots here. Information. Envelope. N for eggs. N for cement (enforcement). Enfilading. N for a penny. N for no (inferno). I think the leader was the old N for a dig (infra dig). I did manage to think of a new one myself here, which was Enver Hoxha, but somebody else thought of that as well. And in his Comic Alphabets book, Eric Partridge reveals that the idea was thought of long ago, in Enver Pasha or Enver Bey, the once-famous leader of the Young Turks.
O. O for the wings of a dove. O for a muse of fire. O for a pint. O for a pee. O for the rainbow. O for the garden wall. O for my shoulder. O for seas. O for board. O for my dead body. O for the sea to Skye. O for coat.
P. P for relief was the clear winner, ahead of P for the doctor, P for comfort, P for whistle, P for Daddy and P for a penny. The cleverest came from Rosemary Thornton who said that her father taught her P for church because Peover Church near Knutsford in Cheshire is actually pronounced that way.
Q. Amazing what people have queued for in the past. I was given Q for rations, Q for fish and chips, Q for tickets, Q for the 1/9s, Q for bananas, Q for a bus, and - more modern - Q for clubbing. But the commonest was Q for everything. Those who heard it as "cue" gave me Q for billiards and Q for a song.
R. R for mo, R for Askey, R for English, R for bitter. That was it. No upmarket ones at all. No R for Miller, R for Bryant, R for Quiller Couch or even R for sea clerk.
S. S for you, S for example were the most common, but people remembered all the ones commemorating Esthers: S for Williams, S for Ralston, S for Rantzen, S for McCracken (who she?), S for Waters (who she too?) and S for Ofarim.
T. Everyone said T for two, except the few who said T for mouf and T for dentures.
U. U for me, U for nerve, U for got, U for mism, U for Pendragon. I liked Richard Stamp's U for today (youth of today!) and I was glad to learn that U for films refers to a defunct German film company called UFA Films.
V. V for la France, l'amour, Zapata, Espana and la difference.
W. Nobody was very happy with W, but most settled for Double You for a Shilling, or W for a Quid.
X. X for breakfast was universally liked.
Y. Y for goodness sake was popular. Less so was Y for runts (Y-fronts). But most people went for the "Wife or..." pattern. Y for husband, Y for mistress, and even Y for secretary and Y for partner. A couple of lone cockney voices suggested Y for thin and Y for communion biscuits.
Z. A difficult letter to end on. Z for breeze (zephyr breeze) was the commonest, even if we all felt it was feeble. Occasional references to old Zephyr cars, such as Z for Six, and Z for Zodiac, and two brave suggestions of Zeffirelli. Z for effect, Z someone. Two people said they had been told Z the raven and didn't know why. Sounds like the old Edgar Allan Poe line "Quoth the raven" to me...
Thanks to all, and tomorrow back to sanity.
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