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Word of the day: alfabet (alphabet)

I have a confession to make. I am very bad at reading music. When I started playing the saxophone in my late teens, I tried and tried but could not make head or tail of the staff and its musical notes and symbols. It takes me ages to work out what the music is that the notes symbolize. 

I don’t know if my defect has an official name, but I call myself in Dutch a ‘laaggenoot’ (someone who has a low mastery of musical notation). I coined this by analogy with an ‘echtgenoot’ (husband) and a ‘laaggeletterde’, who is someone who is functionally illiterate. I imagine that my sense of embarrassment must be slightly akin to the way a ‘laaggeletterde’ feels.

In former days, when most Dutchies were still arrogant and therefore functional barbarians, they called people having trouble making sense of the ALFABET ‘analfabeet’ (illiterate). This word, reeking of intelligentia, has received many stains on its journey through time and so we now refer to these unfortunate people as ‘laaggeletterd’.

The Dutch ‘Stichting Lezen & Schrijven’ (The Reading & Writing Foundation) aims to prevent and reduce low literacy. This Foundation was launched in 2004 and is an initiative of Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands. One of its activities is the Week van de Alfabetisering (the Week of Improving Literacy or Eliminating Illiteracy) which is held this week (8 – 15 September).

Illiteracy in the Netherlands? Unbelievable, I hear you sigh. And yet! The Hague alone with its 600,000 Hagenaars counts 70.000 adults who have great difficulty reading and writing, a shocking 8.6 % of the population! Over one million of 17 million Dutch citizens are unable to participate fully within society because they cannot read or write.

All that because of 26 lousy letters. ABC…. XYZ. I may be a ‘laaggenoot’ and therefore feel uncomfortable with musical notation, I love letters with all my heart. I also like to play around with them. In The Hague, Karen Polder, a friend of mine who is a letter loving artist has designed a typographical playground in the shape of a huge (Bauhaus) alphabet. It can be found in the garden of the Museum of the Book (Meermanno).

After having played around with letters for over fifty-five years, I am still fascinated by them. For me each letter has its own peculiar character. All letters behave as people and friends I know.

That’s why I thought this week, let’s create a family portrait of the twenty-six friends I have and know so well. Since I haven’t got Karen Polder’s talent, I had to make do with what I’ve got and that’s letters. The English translation is only meant as a key to the Dutch text. Here it is.

Familieportret van een alfabet

A staat voor aap.
B blaat als schaap.
C sjanst met H
En D droomt van K.

E eet met P.
F flirt met E.
G gluurt naar D.
H huilt om C.

I is op Y.
J jubelt blij.
K is de klos
En L gaat los.

M misleidt W
Want N naait V.
O offert G.
P pampert E.

Q staat nu quitte.
R raaskalt niet.
S slist: ‘Stop T!’
Maar T tatert: ‘Nee!’ 

U uit berouw.
V zoekt een vrouw.
W wil geen heks. 
X was haar ex.

Y zucht: ‘Yes, schat.’
Z zuipt zich zat. 

Family Portrait of an Alphabet

A looks a right ape.
B bleats like sheep.
C chats up H
And D dreams of K.

E eats with P.
F flirts with E.
G glares at D.
H howls over C.

I has an eye on Y.
J is jubilant.
K was kicked out
And L lets go.

M misleads W
For N nails V.
O offers G.
P pampers E.

Q is quits now.
R doesn’t rave.
S lisps: ‘Stop T!’
But T tattles: ‘No!’

U utters remorse.
V ventures a wife.
W wants no witch. 
X was her ex.

Y sighs: ‘Yes, pup.’
Z boozes it up.

(Dutch text and English translation: © Ruud Hisgen, 2013)

Source photo