1069: Alphabet

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Do I get to remove letters entirely? Or just rearrange them? Because the 'k/c' situation is ridiculous. Look, we can make out whenever. This is *immortality*!
Title text: Do I get to remove letters entirely? Or just rearrange them? Because the 'k/c' situation is ridiculous. Look, we can make out whenever. This is *immortality*!


This comic is mainly a joke on the traditional pick-up line that goes: "Baby, if I could rearrange the alphabet, I'd put 'U' and 'I' together", i.e. "you and I", or "the letter U and the letter I".

However, in typical xkcd fashion, rather than continuing with that tired pickup line, addressed at Blondie at the bar, Cueball jumps at his hypothetical chance to rearrange the alphabet and fix the English orthography.

An orthography is a standardized system for using a particular writing system (script) to write a particular language, including rules of spelling. The English orthography happens to be one of the deepest (that is, most irregular) ones around, since almost every sound can be spelled in several ways, and most spellings and all letters can be pronounced in more than one way, and often in many different ways.

So faced with this opportunity, the hooking up could wait. Restructuring the alphabet and creating a sensibly regular English spelling is the chance of a lifetime, and would make history, making Cueball immortal in the sense of living on forever in memory, as the alphabet-fixer.

In the title text Cueball muses on the possibilities. Does he get to remove letters entirely or just rearrange them (like putting U and I together)? Then he mentions "the 'k/c' situation" specifically because that "situation is ridiculous". This is about the use of the letter 'c'. It doesn't have a unique sound, and most often makes a 'k'-sound or an 's'-sound. Combined with an 'h' it usually makes the 'ch'-sound in chair, but also they often sound like 'k' (character), and in not too few cases they even make the 'sh'-sound (like champagne, see more examples here). So a reasonable change Cueball might make is to replace 'c' by 'k' or 's', and keep 'c' only followed by 'h' (or even giving 'c' the current sound of 'ch' as in chair or giving the role of 'ch' as in chair to 'kh', spelling 'khair').

He finishes off by stating that they can make out any other time, because fixing the alphabet now would bring him immortality.

Orthography was again the subject in 1562: I in Team. A non-standard version of this pickup joke was previously referenced in 279: Pickup Lines.


[Cueball stands behind Blondie who has turned her head towards him while sitting at a bar stool at a bar desk. She holds on to a wine glass standing on the desk. Two regular glasses are standing on the desk in front of her.]
Cueball: Baby, if I could rearrange the alphabet, I'd forget about you in a heartbeat.
Cueball: I'm not gonna waste my one chance to help the mess that is English orthography.

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That would probably work anyways. I hear women love it when you play hard to get like that. Davidy22[talk] 13:38, 8 January 2013 (UTC)

Is it not also relevant that the "ea" in heart and beat are pronounced differently, an example of the irregularity of English orthography. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

In "rearrange" (used in the comic) the letters "ea" comprise two syllables, and the schwa is more stressed than in "realize", which is barely audible when pronounced at all (although it might depend on regional accents). 02:26, 2 December 2016 (UTC)

...and also in learn, bread, break, beard, bear, create, reality, realize, sergeant. So, 11 different pronunciations. Did I miss any? ––St.nerol (talk) 22:11, 28 April 2013 (UTC)
In what way are the pairs beat/beard and learn/bread pronounced differently? 21:18, 5 August 2013 (UTC)
Beat/beard seems the same. Mistake. Learn has the same vowel as "surge", and bread is pronounced with the short "e"-sound, as in "best". –St.nerol (talk) 22:15, 6 August 2013 (UTC)
Those vowels all sound different to me. It all depends on your accent. Tarkov (talk) 09:03, 2 January 2014 (UTC)

/hɑɹt/ /biːt/ /lɝn/ /bɹɛd/ /bɹeɪk/ /bɪɹd/ /bɛɚ/ /kɹiːˈeɪt/ /riˈæləti/ I couldn't find realize and sergeant. You can see it isn't just the vowels that are different. Tharkon (talk) 01:34, 26 July 2014 (UTC)

  • beat/beard /biːt/ vs /bɪɹd/ or /bɪəd/
  • learn/bread /lɜɹn/ vs /bɹɛd/. The difference between learn and bread is similar to the difference between stir /stɜɹ/ and stare /stɛɹ/, which are not homophones.
  • realize /ˈɹiːəlaɪz/
  • sergeant /ˈsɑːɹdʒənt/

Xhfz (talk) 13:34, 10 August 2015 (UTC)

It's a nice touch that Cueball's second sentence entirely omits the vowel 'u' thus forgetting "about 'U' in a heartbeat" 14:05, 6 June 2018 (UTC)

almost def a coincidence but still cool. also see jan misali's spelling reform videos. 14:07, 16 September 2021 (UTC)Bumpf