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Now I know my A, B, Z's

Hudson Cooper - Columnist
Posted 8/26/20

With the loosening of some pandemic rules many school systems are allowing students back into the classroom in some capacity. Last March many of them opted for home school rather than risk exposure …

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Now I know my A, B, Z's

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With the loosening of some pandemic rules many school systems are allowing students back into the classroom in some capacity. Last March many of them opted for home school rather than risk exposure in a school setting. Besides working with a teacher on the internet, Mom and Dad stepped in as tutors.

I can only imagine the frustration of Dad reading aloud the Pythagorean Theorem to his child. “The theorem is a basic equation in Euclidean geometry and right triangles. The square formed by the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.” Realizing he has no idea what he just read, Dad adds “Hey, who wants to put a mask on and go out for some ice cream?”

Luckily, preschoolers have a simpler curriculum. Nap time and snack time are interrupted with lessons about learning their A, B, C'S and playing Twinkle, Twinkle on their recorders. Recorders are simple woodwind instruments with a whistle mouthpiece used by children as an introduction to playing music. They are also known as fipple flutes.

Before they get older and attempt to play the woodwind part in Beethoven's 5th symphony, children usually first learn the fipple flute's version of Twinkle, Twinkle. Most of you know the tune very well. In fact, I imagine some of you are saying it aloud right now bringing back those childhood memories of sloppy Joe's for lunch, Saturday morning cartoons and spelling bees.

Speaking of spelling bees, do you ever wonder who developed the alphabet we learned in preschool. It is generally agreed that the alphabet we use was formulated when the Semites adopted Egyptian hieroglyphics. Then it was spread by merchants to what is now Lebanon, Syria and Israel. It was the only peaceful collaboration in that area until the Arabs and Israelis got together centuries later and invented hummus.

Scholars can trace the origins of the letters, but how they wound up in the order of ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ is a mystery. If they were placed like that on purpose wouldn't it have made more sense to group the vowels separately from the consonants?

Sometimes the grouping of letters serves a purpose. Keyboards on mechanical typewriters are arranged in a manner know as qwerty. Qwerty represents the first 6 letters on the top line of the alphabetical portion of the keyboard. Although the typewriter keyboard seems like a random placement of letters it was designed for a reason.

The first manual typewriter had the letters attached to metal rods that moved to the paper to make the imprint. Manufacturers soon found out that placing letters that are commonly used together to make words caused the rods to jam together and get stuck. So instead, they separated those letters around the keyboard.

Preschoolers learn the alphabet by memorizing the “Alphabet Song.” The song was copyrighted with the less than inventive title “The ABC” in 1835 by Charles Bradley from Boston. The theme is adapted from a common one found in many of Mozart's piano pieces. I am not too familiar with many Mozart pieces, but I wonder if one of them speeds up for a few seconds halfway through. That might explain why LMNOP gets quickly lumped together in the idle of the Alphabet Song.

In addition to the Alphabet Song, children eventually learn about vowels by reciting a device to help with their spelling. Vowels must feel very special about having their own device since they only make up less than one quarter of the alphabet. Well, not exactly. If you remember the vowel device, AEIOU gets top billing and then you add “and sometimes Y.”

Why is Y not given recognition solely as a vowel? Sometimes the letter Y is a consonant such as in the word “yes” and sometimes a vowel like in “gym.” If you think that is confusing, imagine trying to learn the English language. You finally master the differences between there, their and they're, only to now have to deal with the pesky Y as an occasional vowel situation.

If your child is precocious, Twinkle Twinkle and the Alphabet Song would be a good starting point to examine musical copyright infringement. You want to see a look of wonderment on a child's face? Ask them to sing Twinkle Twinkle as you begin to sing the Alphabet Song. Right around the line “how I wonder what you are” there eyes will light up when they realize it is the same tune. Twinkle Twinkle was published as a poem in 1806, twenty-nine years before the Alphabet Song.

You can use the similarity of those children's tunes to someday introduce your child to the accusations of musical copyright infringement by Led Zeppelin, George Harrison and The Beach Boys. For my readers, bonus points will be awarded if you noticed I incorrectly used the word “there” instead of “their” two sentences earlier.

In today's world with the advent of computer apps such as autocorrect, learning the alphabet and how to spell correctly has diminished in importance. But with all the sometimes embarrassing errors autocorrect makes, it is always a good idea to check your spelling before sending anything by cell phone or computer.

Regarding written homework assignments, remember that teachers still say to their students when communicating by text or email “smelling counts.”

Hudson Cooper is a resident of Sullivan County, a writer, comedian and actor.

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