Pariah Letters

Have you ever felt terribly insignificant?  As if you were constantly overlooked in casual conversation and impassively glossed over in spite of your presence? Just imagine if you were essentially silenced from speech, powerless to insert your influence via communication. If you have any idea what this tragic plight is like, then you can definitely sympathize with the pariah letters.

Having origins from a whole slew of different languages, English is both tremendously diverse, complex, and strange. Because of this very linguistic variety, we have strange instances like the pariah letters pop up in daily conversation. When I say “pariah letters”, I am referring to the certain and singular letters in words that are habitually silenced in speech. Hence, why I call them linguistic outcasts. They are constantly overlooked, silenced, and indirectly scorned. In fact, individuals who have the audacity to pronounce them are often considered either illiterate or tremendously confused. Oh poor, pariah letters!

Look at me! I’ve been berating the fate of pariah letters without even providing specific examples! Pardon my slowness today; I haven’t had my morning chai yet. Pariah letters that instantly come to mind are the “h” in honesty, the “r” in February, the “h” in herbs, and the “d” in Wednesday.

Ever since we were infants, gradually building our vocabulary in a classroom setting, our teachers, peers, and parents have taught and reinforced our neglect of the pariah letters. I can imagine the first time  I had ever stumbled across the written word, “Wednesday” when memorizing the days of the week, without which the passage of time is meaningless. Painstakingly sounding out the individual letters, I must’ve said something like, “Wah-eh-da-neh-sa-da-ay. Wedanasday.”

Proudly looking up at my teacher, certain that I had mastered this strange, new word, I must have expected imminent praise, a star sticker, a celebratory lollipop even. Instead, I received a poorly suppressed giggle and a patronizing pat on the back.

“Whens-day, Anusha. Whens-day. You don’t say the ‘d'”

Slightly puzzled by her words because I could clearly see the “d” before the “n”, I nodded uncertainly. But as the young and impressionable child that I was, it didn’t take me very long to accept the silenced “d” as another fact of life. Hey, it was just another word that I was adding to my rapidly expanding vocabulary base, right? Except that that experience wasn’t the end of my encounters with the pariah letters.

A few months after the “Wednesday” incident, I was reading a portion of a short story aloud in class. As I was mindlessly articulating the words in my narrow field of vision, I saw the word, “February” suddenly appear. Now capable of reading the words without having to slowly sound them out, I studied it for a few moments before saying, “Feb-RU-ary.”

While I had been ready to continue reading the rest of the passage, I was rudely interrupted by a sudden influx of derisive, childish giggles.

Bewildered by this sudden mockery, I looked up from the book on my lap to see dozens of chubby, juvenile faces pulled back into ridiculous grins.

What is it? my wide eyes seemed to ask them.

“It’s Feb-U-ary!” a squat boy in the front yelled at me before having another explosive fit of giggles.

Even the teacher was smiling a little, before she quickly silenced the class and had me finish the passage.

Still burning in shame and resentment of society’s merciless neglect of the pariah letters, I vowed to never again pronounce the “r” in February.

And so I say, on behalf of all of the speakers and writers of modern English, I’m sorry, pariah letters. I’m sorry that we habitually silence your sounds. That we staunchly neglect your significance. I’m sorry that we ridicule your young advocates. But, my linguistic pariahs,  in spite of the fact that you are absent in speech, know that you are always present in writing.


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