2794: Alphabet Notes

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Alphabet Notes
Listen, you're very cute, but if you rearrange the alphabet to put U and I together it will RUIN the spacing!
Title text: Listen, you're very cute, but if you rearrange the alphabet to put U and I together it will RUIN the spacing!


This comic is Randall's "design notes" for the English alphabet. The comic lists the A-to-Z alphabet, in black block letters, from left to right. At the top, Randall lists the vowels and appreciates how they are spaced. Interestingly, there are either three or five consonant letters between every consecutive pair of vowel letters in the alphabet. Forming these supposed design notes are many red annotations.

The title text jokes about the pick-up line "If I could rearrange the alphabet, I'd put U and I together.", where the letters U and I are pronounced like the pronouns "you" and "I". It is such a corny act of flirtation that any recipient of it could easily have a rejection (or a flirty acceptance if they so wish) ready to respond within an appropriate vein. As well as reflecting the diagram's noted preference for well-spaced vowels, it might be presumed that anyone (unironically) using the " U and I" line might be left dumbfounded at the rather technical nature of the riposte. This pickup line was also the subject of 1069: Alphabet. The word "ruin" also contains the two letters next to each other, which rather subverts the idea that putting them together results in something cute. Alternatively, the distance ("spacing") between the flirters would change ("be ruined") if they got together, subverting the meaning of "ruin" in a more positive way.

Letter Randall's note Explanation
A "Strong start!" A is described favorably as the start.
B "Decent consonants but no real heavy hitters here in the first third ("D" is solid, at least)" Randall considers the five early consonants B, C, D, F, and G to be acceptable but nothing special, except D which he considers solid. It's not clear whether he specifically is referring to their appearance or what sound they represent. In English phonology, D is the voiced alveolar plosive.
H "Hi!" The word "Hi" appears uninterrupted when the letters of the English alphabet are listed A-to-Z.
"The dotted letters are friends!" Randall notes and appreciates the shared tittle (dot) in the lowercase letters i and j, calling them "friends". The separate dots and main strokes could also be interpreted as the heads and torsos of two reductionist character drawings. The two letters are the respective mathematical and electrical-engineering notations of the square root of -1, and so may be considered both professionally and personally in a close relationship, as well as neighbours. In the Netherlands, a digraph, or two letters representing one sound (such as "CH" and "SH" in English) is formed from I and J, creating IJ; it is considered distinct from either I or J. It should be noted that J appeared sometime around the Middle Ages as a variant of I, explaining why they look similar and are located together in the alphabet.
"Jk (lol)" Like "Hi", the letters J and K are next to each other in the English alphabet. "Jk" is an initialism for "just kidding", similar to "LOL" for "laugh out loud".
L to P "Part that's fun to sing" In the standard "alphabet song" in the US (sung to the tune of the nursery rhyme "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"), most letters occur upon the beat of an easy and sedate tempo. However, to make it both scan and rhyme, the letters L to P are run through at double the tempo. This provides a welcome departure from the rhythm that has been slow and uniform up to that point, and the rapidity of the letters almost makes them feel like a strange word ("elemenopee") rather than a sequence of alphabetic letters. The letter sounds also require the involvement of several different parts of the mouth, including a rapid tongue movement, which may feel more fun to do than the preceding parts.
M "Weird how the line between "M" and "N" is the halfway mark.

They're similar, but "MN" only shows up in fancy words like "mnemonic", "column", "amnesty", and "hymn". Significance??"

Randall finds it weird that the dividing line between the two halves of the alphabet would go between M and N. Indeed, it is a bit odd that the two letters, which look similar and represent similar sounds, are placed in such a way that they would be split apart when the alphabet is written out on two lines. He also lists several words that contain MN in sequence and speculates on the significance of this rare bigram seemingly only being used for "fancy" words.
"No" Like "Hi", the word "No" appears uninterrupted in the English alphabet.
Q "Why is this here?" Randall considers Q strange, likely because the sound it denotes in English could be replaced with the sequence "KW," and Q almost never appears on its own in English, but instead exclusively through the bigram QU. The modern English alphabet evolved from the Phoenician alphabet, where the letter Q represented a voiceless uvular plosive, a sound similar to /k/ but with the tongue pushed back. Even though the Greeks who learned to write from them did not have this sound, they kept the letter because Arabic numerals hadn't been invented yet and they adopted it to represent the number 90. Later, when the Romans learned to write from them, this resulted in an alphabet where they had three letters for (what was to them) the same sound; C K Q were used all but interchangeably, but eventually a rule was established and Q was to be used for back vowels /o/ and /u/, a tradition carried on by the French and finally the English, hence why Q today is almost always followed by a U.

Other letters can be replaced by a similar combination of letters, but they aren't mentioned by Randall. For example, C (except in various cases when part of the digraph CH) can be replaced with K or S, and X can be spelled as "KS".

"Why is this here?" could also be referring to Q's position in the alphabet; the surrounding consonants P, R, S, and T are all rather frequently used in English, while Q is one of the least-used letters (varying sources all list Q, J, X, and Z as the least frequent letter in English).

R "Strong cluster!" Randall considers RST a strong cluster of consonants, though again it is unclear whether he refers to their visual design or to the sounds they represent. The use of an RST code is a traditional way of describing the reception quality of radio communications. Also, RST are part of the widely recognized five most common consonants in the English language, RSTLN. Three out of the five are listed together in the alphabet.

Maybe we should've stopped at "T"."

The comment that the alphabet may have been better if it had stopped at T is potentially a reference to the fact that the original Phoenician script, which is the ancestor of many modern scripts including English, had as its last letter Taw, which the modern letter T is derived from. It is still the last letter of the modern Hebrew alphabet, although the Greek alphabet added several letters after it, some of which persist into modern English. Randall seems to believe that the Phoenician script was fine as-is and that the letters U-Z are unnecessary or "haunted".
U "Weirdest of the main 5 vowels by far" Randall is not a fan of the letter U and thinks it is the weirdest of the five vowels. U is the least frequent of the five main vowels (though still more frequent than Y), and the sounds it tends to represent are often considered amusing by English speakers.
V to Z "Haunted letters (keep out!!)" The letters V, W, X, Y, and Z are "haunted".
V "??" Randall seems to be confused about VW. Possible confusion stems from the fact that W is called "double U" rather than "double V". Both W and U are derived from V, which might explain a lot. He may also be confused as to why a make of car is appearing in the alphabet.
X "Not sure this is even a letter. Did you include a number by mistake?" Randall questions whether X is even a letter. As Randall is a physicist, it is likely he is referring to how the letter is likely encountered more often as a variable representing a number in mathematics and algebra than as a letter for scientists. Alternatively, he could be referring to the Roman numeral X, though he doesn't have this kind of issue with I, V, L, D or M.

Alternatively, as mentioned under Q, it may be that X represents a combination of sounds that could instead be written as CS or KS, or Z at the start of a word, since X frequently makes the /z/ sound word-initially.

Y "?" At the end of the vowel list at the top, Randall uses a question mark to indicate the ambiguous nature of Y, which can function both as a vowel and a consonant depending on the context. Its name also sounds like "why", which is a very common question.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[A list of the letters of the alphabet, from A to Z, in black]
[A red line above the letters, with tick marks and their associated vowels at A, E, I, O, and U. Y has a question mark instead of a tick.]
Love the spacing between the vowels!
[Red annotations near various letters.]
A: Strong start!
BCD, FG: Decent consonants but no real heavy hitters here in the first third ("D" is solid, at least)
HI: Hi!
IJ: [additional lowercase "ij" given, in red]: The dotted letters are friends!
JK: Jk (lol)
LMNOP: Part that's fun to sing
Weird how the line between "M" and "N" is the halfway mark.
They're similar, but "MN" only shows up in fancy words like "mnemonic", "column", "amnesty", and "hymn". Significance??
NO: No
Q: Why is this here?
RST: Strong cluster!
U: Weirdest of the main 5 vowels by far
VWXYZ: Haunted letters (keep out!!)
VW: ??
X: Not sure this is even a letter. Did you include a number by mistake?
YZ: ...Listen.
Maybe we should've stopped at "T".
[Caption below the panel:]
Design notes on the alphabet

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No, we must rid ourselves of the redundant C. Also we need to bring back Ð and Þ. SDSpivey (talk) 19:20, 26 June 2023 (UTC)

I agree with your second point, but not your first (This is why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chpT0TzietQ) Trogdor147 (talk) 01:04, 27 June 2023 (UTC)
I agree, as long as we also bring back ᵹ. PxP 19:57, 28 June 2023 (UTC)
Cueball may disagree with you. :9 NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:40, 1 July 2023 (UTC)

daMNation, randoMNess, chiMNey, gyMNastics, autuMN are not fancy words 19:43, 26 June 2023 (UTC)

Autumn is to me! (Fall is the standard, Autumn is fancy) PxP 19:58, 28 June 2023
To me "Autumn" is normal. "Fall" only comes from furriners... 00:46, 29 June 2023 (UTC)
Don't forget aMNestic. Whoop whoop pull up (talk) 11:02, 10 November 2023 (UTC)

You can't have rUIn without U and I together!

Or UI! GetPunnedOn (talk) 22:35, 26 June 2023 (UTC) (Reply to above text)

We need to bring back way more letters: https://youtu.be/wJxKyh9e5_A -- 20:33, 26 June 2023 (UTC)

I would be useful to include the letter frequency table from Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_frequency but we don't appear to have the "bartable" template from wikipedia to display bar charts. It would explain a lot about the haunted letters in particular to have it.

The circled JK is clearly referencing the text-language abbreviation for "just kidding", and the bracketed VW... I'm not sure but, it might have to do with Volkswagen, or the spikiness of the letters, or "why isn't W called double-V or at least next to the U". 21:18, 26 June 2023 (UTC)

I removed the portion claiming that "JK" originated with SMS texting, which simply isn't true at all. Using "JK" as an acronym for "just kidding", goes back even before the rise of Bulletin Board Systems; it may have originated with schoolkids passing notes.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 16:03, 29 June 2023 (UTC)
I feel like it DID start with SMS texting, which has a strict size limit and people used to not have unlimited texting and as such had to keep things brief. I have a long history with computers and internet and technology, including back to BBSs, and it seems like JK and J/K only started showing up 15-20 years ago. I was late to owning a cell phone, and thus texting, so it was in widespread use before I caught what it meant. Remembering that BBSs never had any length limits (none I saw, anyway), so there was no motivation for skipping letters in words (other than lengthening connection time, a difference so negligible it would be measured in picoseconds or lower). SMS is what started - indirectly - charging for writing longer. NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:40, 1 July 2023 (UTC)
I don't know whether it was chat (except usually those had a pretty generous length as I recall) or in-game messaging or some prior convention such as acronyms used in morse shorthands, but "JK" would get tacked on after statements on message boards & it was even used on handwritten notes, quite a bit prior to the advent of SMS (which itself was well over 20 years ago). JK has been around longer than many (most?) of us have been alive.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:39, 2 July 2023 (UTC)
I'm not going to claim to be an absolute authority on this by any means, but I have an English & Linguistics degree, have spent a lifetime collecting phrases and idioms out of sheer fascination, and make a living as a proofreader for a huge international company with dozens of offices in the Americas, Europe, East Asia, the Middle East and Australia. But I'm English, as my handle would probably suggest, and I have now, having read this comic, heard of "JK" to mean "just kidding". So I'm going to suggest that maybe it's rather North American in usage.Yorkshire Pudding (talk) 11:04, 30 June 2023 (UTC)
I think the bracketed V and W is referencing the fact that W is equivalent to two V’s together. (Or the fact that W originated as VV) —Purah126 (talk) 23:39, 26 June 2023 (UTC)
Huh, I always thought "jk" was for "joke". Luckily it doesn't change its meaning... (unlike the person who thought "LOL" was for "Lots of Love" https://www.quora.com/Does-LOL-stand-for-Love-you-loads-or-Lots-of-love ) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:19, 27 June 2023 (UTC)
In some languages, such as French, w is called "double v" (or its literal transaltion), which makes more sense. :-) --Itub (talk) 11:28, 27 June 2023 (UTC)

Added the Twinkle Twinkle justification into the existing explanation. But I might be talking out of my hat, as I'm British and only really know the US treatment from imported media. (Sesame Street? No, I can only bring to mind their counting 1-12 song. And "Conjunction Junction".) The UK's "alphabet" recital form, at least when I was that young, is far less musical. And tends to rhyme "Z" with "Drop dead!", naturally. ;) 22:06, 26 June 2023 (UTC)

I'm Canadian, similarly using "zed", and we DID use the alphabet song, we just ignored trying to rhyme that letter. :) Makes me wonder if that rhyme is WHY Americans use "zee". NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:40, 1 July 2023 (UTC)

Pretty sure he isn't questioning the position of Q as much as its inclusion. If we wanted to reform English spelling, we could get rid of Q pretty kwiklee. 23:29, 26 June 2023 (UTC)

Or maybe it's that old joke about why U doesn't follow Q in the alphabet? 10:09, 27 June 2023 (UTC) Artinum

I can't be the only one who thinks there's a dirty joke in the line '"D" is solid, at least' 00:18, 27 June 2023 (UTC)

I didn't. I think that joke is simply that D is a simple, enclosed shape. Barmar (talk) 04:27, 27 June 2023 (UTC)
B is also a simple, enclosed shape. I thought that the 'no heavy hitters' comment might be a reference to 'ETAION SHRDLU', the 12 most common letters in written English arranged in descending order of frequency - since it contains neither B nor C (nor, indeed, F or G). 05:12, 27 June 2023 (UTC)
B has a concave feature so is not so simple a shape as D. D is the only consonant whose convex hull maintains the shape of the letter. (Imagine snapping a rubber band around the letter. The vowels I and O also have this property... at least with no serifs on the I, as drawn.) Davidhbrown (talk) 11:49, 27 June 2023 (UTC)
I feel it is just that Randall finds D to be a "reliable" letter, like a workhorse letter, it does the job while not being flashy (I tend to get his thinking, MANY comics where I feel the same as him, this included, but I can't fully explain this feeling in this case, I just agree with the statement). NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:40, 1 July 2023 (UTC)

PxP: I must ask, does this has anything to do with Alphabet Lore by Mike Salcedo? I feel it might be, with Q being weird and all. 12:16, 27 June 2023 (EST)

To quote my latest edit-comment: "Why number-points, anyway? Just *s would make more sense than #s, as there's no need to establish an order in most cases, especially for multi-glyph annotations" (...like the wide spread of vowels(+Y), especially). I see no need for ordinal bullet-points, but (which would have helped my prior edit, that I'd forgotten to Preview first, thus had broken/restarted the numbering) it is a prime candidate for the more traditional wikitable layout. Columns of "Letter(s), Red Comment, Possible Reason(s)" would probably suffice. 16:43, 27 June 2023 (UTC)

In order for it to BE an 'alphabet', it has to begin with the equivalent letters for 'Alpha' and 'Beta'. Any logographic system that doesn't begin with the local equivalent of A and B (such as Chinese pinyin, or Norse runes) isn't an alphabet, no matter how many times the plebs claim it is... 03:44, 28 June 2023 (UTC)

Not necessarily. The name of a word doesn't necessarily correspond 1:1 with its meaning. And even if "alphabet" was originally created with that meaning (which it may or may not have), meanings can change over time. Wikipedia's Alphabet article lists many writing systems that aren't Latin-derived; the accepted meaning of an alphabet is any writing system that associates symbols with sounds. Not that I'm going to convince you of anything of course - your use of the word "plebs" implies that you're not willing to change your mind. DownGoer (talk) 05:18, 29 June 2023 (UTC)
Seconded. Etymology and current meaning are not the same thing. Yorkshire Pudding (talk) 10:55, 30 June 2023 (UTC)
I agree with these two, in current parlance they're all alphabets. I can believe that's the origin of the word, but not that it's the current meaning. I mean, if non-Alpha-and-Beta languages AREN'T "alphabets", then what do you call them instead? NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:40, 1 July 2023 (UTC)
Boy, you're going to be really annoyed when you learn where the words "logograph" and "rune" come from. (To save people a Google search: "instrument or person who writes" and "secret conversation", respectively. So by your logic, the Chinese script - or indeed, any script - cannot be called a logography, and most Norse writing are not runes.) 12:43, 1 July 2023 (UTC)

The strong RST cluster could also reference the keys on the colemak keyboard layout where the three stronger fingers (ring, middle, left) of the left-hand sit on those keys

This doesn't seem likely. Other than international keyboards, usually the only keyboard layout that comes up is the Dvorak. It seems clear to me that he means that they are 3 of the 5 most common letters in the English language, and they happen to be clustered together in the alphabet. NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:40, 1 July 2023 (UTC)

None of the latest comics have been added to this site around when they were posted recently. — 14:12, 28 June 2023 (UTC)

What's funny - but I find incredibly common - is that I agree with Randall on all of these points, LOL! I can just see what he means. NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:40, 1 July 2023 (UTC)

Why're we using "number-bullets" in this page's markup/composition? Seems a strange choice... 16:56, 2 July 2023 (UTC)

We're not anymore! :D
I spend more time than I'd like to admit turning the entire article into a table. FaviFake (talk) 08:01, 3 July 2023 (UTC)

Are you sure he doesn't mean here as in why Q is between P and R instead of, say, next to U? 01:36, 5 July 2023 (UTC)

That might be the case. Feel free to add that to the article. --FaviFake (talk) 07:54, 5 July 2023 (UTC)--FaviFake (talk) 07:54, 5 July 2023 (UTC)

Can someone add the letters E and L to the chart? IJustWantToEditStuff (talk) 16:33, 7 July 2023 (UTC)

The letter "L" is where it should be, but named "L to P" because the only comment about L is the alphabet song. I avoided adding "E" because it would be in the middle of another group it's not part of (see the comic). If someone finds a way to add "E" (which has no comment from Randall) into the table without making it confusing, let us know. --FaviFake (talk) 21:25, 7 July 2023 (UTC)
My suggestion would be to have rowspanned cells (and/or a sorting-compatible means of merging sequrntial repetitions) so each individual character has as many 'raw' table lines as it has different annotations, and every annotation has as many lines as it has members of the set. I might fiddle with that myself, see what it looks like. 22:37, 7 July 2023 (UTC)

I’m surprised there is no discussion of W as a vowel, for example the word cwm. John (talk) 11:28, 12 July 2023 (UTC)

I'm not sure Welsh is something Randall would have been thinking of*. No sign of the "letters" 'ch', 'dd', 'ff', 'ng', 'll', 'ph', 'rh' and 'th' as list items (unlike the potential dutch 'ij', albeit that pops out of the basic sequence), nor (additional) complaints about the relative absence of 'k', 'q', 'v', 'x' or 'z' in the geiriadur. (* - though it would be interesting if he ever did, under his Language remit...) 12:02, 12 July 2023 (UTC)