#60 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet
Any poet who so jubilantly sings the praises of the letter A is a poet after my own heart.
THE LETTER A by Darren Sardelli The letter A is awesome! It's arguably the best. Without an A, you could not get an A+ on a test. You’d never see an acrobat or eat an apple pie. You couldn’t be an astronaut or kiss your aunt goodbye. An antelope would not exist. An ape would be unknown. You’d never hear a person say “Afraid” or “All Alone”. The A’s in avocado would completely disappear and certain words would be forgot like “ankle”, “arm”, and “ear”. Without the A, you couldn’t aim an arrow in the air. You wouldn’t ask for apricots or almonds at a fair. Aruba and Australia would be missing from a map. You’d never use an ATM, an apron, or an app. The arctic fox and aardvark would be absent from the zoo, and vowels, as you know them, would be E, I, O, and U. There wouldn’t be an A chord on the instruments you play. Let’s appreciate, admire, and applaud the letter A! ~ Reprinted from Blast Off! (The School Magazine, 2016), posted by permission of the author.
How fun to consider some of the marvelous things we’d miss in the absence of A!
Like Darren, I agree that this amazing letter certainly deserves our wild applause, appreciation and adulation at every turn. Easily the “doorway to literacy,” no other letter has enjoyed such rich symbolic value.
Eager A is primo supremo, top of the roster, the first letter of the alphabet we learn as kids. From the very onset of our literate lives, we learn A = first rate.
Most modern alphabets, dating back thousands of years to the Egyptians and Phoenicians, begin with the letter A. It’s always been associated with excellence, fundamentals and beginnings, enjoying a degree of first class status no other letter can even come close to matching.
So I wonder: could A have a superiority complex?
It’s hard not to get big headed when everyone in school longs to see your likeness on exam papers and report cards, or when you’re a coveted symbol of quality assurance.
When the Department of Agriculture, who inspects and grades foods for human consumption, slaps a shiny USDA GRADE A shield sticker on a tray of prime or choice beef, you know you’ve arrived, as you represent top quality in tenderness, flavor, appearance, and uniformity.
Everyone in the grocery store looks for you, wants you, feels better about drinking that carton of milk or scarfing down those eggs that proudly proclaim, “Grade A.” You’re tippy top! Does this degree of desirability ensure a crack-proof eggo ego? 🙂
The letter A also signals “top service” in commerce and name branding. ‘AAA Electric,’ for example, is easy to remember, suggests no risk for the customer, and has the advantage of being listed first in the yellow pages. The American Automobile Association (AAA) sells itself on a tradition of reliability.
Did you know the expression “A-1” dates back to British nautical language of the early 1800s? In registering ships, the maritime insurer Lloyds of London would use notations A or B to rate the condition of ships’ hulls, and notations 1 or 2 to rate ships’ equipment. Only the most shipshape vessels earned the distinction of “A-1.” *sail away with me*
In no time at all, spiffy A-1 spread to popular use on both sides of the Atlantic, largely losing its nautical reference. Now it’s the brand name for everything from steak sauce to banana chips, and there seems to be a plethora of automotive businesses called A-1.
And what about “A-okay”? This expression has an interesting backstory: on the first manned suborbital NASA spaceflight, a simple “okay” from Alan Shepard was misheard and misreported over radio communications as “A-okay.” That one caught on quickly too. Few of us can remember a time when either A-1 or A-okay wasn’t a natural part of our vocabularies.
Maybe a superiority complex goes hand in hand with snob appeal. Consider “A-List.” It was first used to unofficially rank the 75 most bankable movie stars in the 1980s, i.e., the “Hollywood A-List,” but of course, now the term can be applied to any select group, the crème de la crème. Ahem. *nose in the air*
A also holds the enviable status of being a vowel letter, representing one of only five (if you don’t count “y”) speech sounds that are open and produced without friction in the vocal tract.
Mischievous, versatile A likes to keep us on our toes with about a dozen possible sounds. How many do you detect in this sentence?
Adrian saw Pa’s apple banana cake package.
Though the A in apple is our usual short A, the slightly different A in “Pa” is A’s normal pronunciation in most other European languages. It was also thought to have been A’s pronunciation in the ancient European tongues Greek, Etruscan, and Latin.
So that “ah” sound is fundamental to human speech, deemed by alphabet scholar David Diringer to be the “purest and simplest vocalic sound, as uttered by opening the air passage of the throat to its fullest extent.” It is thus the most primitive sound, as well as the first sound uttered by a baby. Wow.
Say it again: “ah” *cuddle*
Leave it up to good old A to deliver such an essential sound! *big head big head*
Lest we assume A comes in first for all things, we should mention that it actually rates third — *wide eyed astonishment* — when it comes to frequency of use in printed English, lagging behind E and T.
And, *brace yourselves* — there’s that unfortunate little matter of A being associated with adultery throughout history. It was considered a criminal offense in Medieval Europe and Puritan England, punishable by flogging or having to wear a humiliating A or AD badge in public. Poor Hester Prynne!
Despite these two drawbacks, proud, defiant, peerless A retains its sterling reputation in the toniest alphabet circles, always in demand, always revered for its ability to symbolize all 26 members of the family. The mere existence of E and T, along with the slightest whiff of impropriety while wearing red, keeps A in check, sans superiority complex.
Getting back to the poem, for some reason I can’t stop thinking about APPLE PIE, and neither could ABC practitioners of yore. I’ve always loved the 17th century English alphabet rhyme, A Apple Pie, illustrated by Kate Greenaway (1886) and later by Gennady Spirin (2005). Seems smart people were always keen to tout A’s deliciousness when it came to helping children learn their ABCs. 🙂
Yum, Yum, Apple Pie. Whatever shall we do now?
HERE’S TO AMAZING, A-1, A-OKAY
Lovely and talented Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at TeacherDance. Waltz on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Have a spooky and spectacular Halloween weekend!
Certified authentic alphabetica. Made by hand just for you with love and apple pie.
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