Feb 18 2011
Sorry about the delay between posts — I was wiped out for most of a week with the flu. Fortunately the only symptoms were high fever and extreme fatigue (to the point of sleeping 20+ hours a day), but it pretty much precluded me from doing anything else. Except perhaps dreaming a few weird fever-dreams, which may be where the rest of this post came from…
In elementary school, at least in the three English-speaking countries I’ve lived in, we’re taught that the vowels are “A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y”. That’s drummed into us. Y has only second-, maybe even third-class status as a vowel. It’s not a real vowel. But, why the frack not?
Recently I used the word “syzygy” — it’s an astronomy term meaning that three or more bodies are in a line, like the Sun, Earth and Moon when the latter is new or full — in a discussion about the effect of multiple moons on tides. There aren’t many other places to use a word like that – even Scrabble doesn’t have enough Y tiles, you’d have to use a wild card. But look at the word: S Y Z Y G Y. By the strange classification of the letter Y as only “sometimes” a vowel, that word only sometimes has vowels in it.
Technically that’s not correct, of course, all the Y’s in syzygy are all vowel all the time. The vowel-ness of the letter is like the alive/dead-ness of Schroedinger’s cat; in the abstract it is neither a live vowel nor a dead consonant, it is only until it is observed in a word that the wave function collapses and it resolves to one or the other.
Or such, it would seem, is the thinking of whoever came up with the “and sometimes Y” in the list of vowels, and all those who believe and teach this particular dogma.
But, just at the moment, with probably neither enough sleep or caffeine in the wake of my Schroedinger’s-cat-like flu-induced zombie state, I’m having difficulty thinking of a word in which Y is ever unarguably not a vowel. So why the second- (or third-) class status?
(And don’t get me started on W. It should be twice the vowel that U is. But perhaps there’s some Welsh in me.)