Xanthippe and...Pope Sixtus?
June 12, 2019 2:03 PM   Subscribe

What did (English-language) alphabet books do before we invented xylophones and X-ray machines?
posted by Chrysostom (53 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
My kid has a book A Is for Artichoke: A Foodie Alphabet from Artichoke to Zest .

For X they use "xigua". If you are not Chinese you might know it better as "watermelon".
posted by madcaptenor at 2:06 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Even Gorey did "X is for Xerxes devoured by mice."
posted by vacapinta at 2:28 PM on June 12 [18 favorites]


Fascinating! We have a set of letter flashcards that use a jack-in-the-box as their X example. I consider it such a cheat because all of the other cards follow the [letter] is for [word beginning with letter] format. That's what I get for buying flashcards at the dollar store.
posted by cpatterson at 2:30 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


This is precisely the kind of tiny historical trivia I go to Public Domain Review for.

Disneyworld Trading Pins have come out with several different alpahabet series with each letter switching out for a different character each time... except for X, which is usually XR from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. I don't know how many people remember the show or the character, but his pop culture longevity has ever so slightly been lengethed by virtue of his name.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:30 PM on June 12


well this is a charming and delightful list of antiquated AAAHHHHGGHHH GIANT HEADED BIRD MONSTER WHAT THE FUCK
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:33 PM on June 12 [16 favorites]


I love the picture of Socrates winking at the camera as his wife dumps the chamber pot on his head. It's like the basic imagery of cheesy tv is part of human evolution. I can see him barging in through a door: "Oh Socrates".
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:41 PM on June 12 [16 favorites]


What I have wondered for years is: why are names beginning with 'X' so popular for medications? They don't name those brands in a casual way, so there must be a reason why this has been found to be effective for marketing. It sounds scientific to people? I suppose this could just be confirmation bias on my part, though.

I can see him barging in through a door: "Oh Socrates".
Laugh track every time Protagoras enters.
posted by thelonius at 2:47 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Because it's a wide open space of possible coinages and looks sciencey? What I can't explain is the super-saturated colors and HDR in drug ads. Maybe Thomas Kinkade was onto something?
posted by sjswitzer at 2:55 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


x (and to a lesser extent z) are the letters in the english language that most signify futurity. by giving medicines names that include x and z, companies indicate that the medicine in question is super high tech future space science and that therefore you should definitely take it.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:21 PM on June 12 [10 favorites]


My kid has an "ABC of Canada" book and their cop out for X is "X-country skiing." That's definitely not as back as jack-in-the-box, though!

Per the article: I love the last example:

X Y
x y

Yatch

Just straight up gaslighting "X."
posted by asnider at 3:23 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


W is for wanderlust, a longing to roam.
X is for xylem, related to phloem.
You can see now why my career as an illustrated alphabet book author never took off.. (Possibly I spend too much time walking in the woods?)
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:24 PM on June 12 [24 favorites]


'T' is for Mister T.
'X' is for "I pity the Xany!"
posted by MtDewd at 3:34 PM on June 12


X IS FOR XENOPHON, WHO LED THE TEN THOUSAND
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:03 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


this reminds me of the Xorn, a monster from the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual that I am fairly sure only exists because it would have irked the completist in E. Gary Gygax not to have any entries under "X"
posted by murphy slaw at 4:43 PM on June 12 [10 favorites]


Ha ha ha - Kate Greenaway had a looming deadline or what?
posted by queensissy at 5:05 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]




Thanks to pinyin x, we can now use Xi'an (former imperial capital), Ximen Qing (antihero of Golden Lotus), the Xiongnu (barbarians), the city of Xiamen, the Xinjiang region, Xuanzang the hero of Journey to the West, and the Xia (the legendary first dynasty).

Or just use Xuxa, the Brazilian TV star.
posted by zompist at 5:22 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Xanadu?

(I'll leave you a note in the john.)
posted by sjswitzer at 5:24 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


this reminds me of the Xorn, a monster from the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual that I am fairly sure only exists because it would have irked the completist in E. Gary Gygax not to have any entries under "X"

Not to mention the xaren from the Monster Manual II (also credited to Gary).
posted by Chrysostom at 5:27 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I'm a little sad no one stopped at W and then suddenly turned it into a lesson about algebra and coordinate systems.
posted by Avelwood at 5:28 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


X is for xyzzy, the Colossal Cave Adventure magic word.
posted by drnick at 5:46 PM on June 12 [6 favorites]


Um, X is for xyzzy, the vector cross product mnemonic.

OK, I also knew it from Adventure first. Plugh!
posted by sjswitzer at 5:51 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


X is for the one who's gon give it to ya.
posted by cmfletcher at 6:27 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


this reminds me of the Xorn, a monster from the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual that I am fairly sure only exists because it would have irked the completist in E. Gary Gygax not to have any entries under "X"

I wonder if also irked him how heavy the D section was: Dragon, Dinosaur, Demon and Devil, each with double-digit numbers of entries.

When my niece was three, she got a big alphabet book: each page with a massive upper-case letter in the middle, and around the perimeter ten or twelve things that began with that letter. I am trying in vain to recall what might have been around the edges of the page for X.

I do recall covering the first page in some detail, asking her questions as I pointed at each picture:
"What is this letter?"

"A!"

"Right! And A is for...?"

"Apple!"

"Very good! And A is for...?"

"Ant!"

"That's right! And A is for...?"

"Crocodile!"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:34 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


this reminds me of the Xorn, a monster from the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual that I am fairly sure only exists because it would have irked the completist in E. Gary Gygax not to have any entries under "X"

We have a big wall of fiction that goes from Pynchon directly to Rabelais, and from Wright to Yanagihara. Every so often I feel a need to Do Something about this.

(Yes, we're alphabetizers. This means that Chaim Potok is next to Snooki.)
posted by madcaptenor at 6:54 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. I thought everyone knew that it was supposed to be X--marks the spot.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:50 PM on June 12


It also comes in handy
spelling ax
and extra fox.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 8:05 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Sue Grafton, mystery writer of the "_ is for _" series (A is for Alibi, etc.) took the easy way out and just called the 24th book "X".
posted by mmoncur at 10:54 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


X is for Xing, from the 'PED XING' sign that confused me (immigrant child) and my mother (immigrant woman) when we first came to America. From Xi'an.

Xing1 means star, celestial and celebrity alike. Did that mean that pedestrians were stars in America? Didn't look like it.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:08 PM on June 12 [7 favorites]


XER|REX
XOF|FOX
XIF|FIXING
XIS|SIX
XAS|SAXoPHONES
posted by Gordafarin at 3:26 AM on June 13


Hold on, is X a symbol for "kiss" because it makes a "ks" sound?

This changes everything.
posted by Kattullus at 4:03 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


I like They Might Be Giants' approach to the problem in Alphabet of Nations.

West Xylophone,
Yemen,
Zimbabwe!

posted by Foosnark at 5:19 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


In the Maurice Sendak/Carole King Really Rosie "Alligators All Around" they went with X: X-ing X-es!

(That song has some issues, 40ish years later, so not linking to it, but it is burned in my brain.)
posted by wellred at 5:31 AM on June 13


X is for xerox, a verb that means copy;
Don't tell Xerox's lawyers or they'll all get stroppy.
posted by duffell at 5:56 AM on June 13 [10 favorites]


AAAHHHHGGHHH GIANT HEADED BIRD MONSTER WHAT THE FUCK

Really tempted to create a Bosch-inspired alphabet book now.
posted by duffell at 5:56 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


X is for xenon, a colorless gas;
It's noble, quite unlike the gas from your ass.
posted by duffell at 5:57 AM on June 13 [8 favorites]


X is for xylitol, which sweetens your gum;
Too high a dose will cause woes for your bum.
posted by duffell at 6:04 AM on June 13 [8 favorites]


Pronounced by my mother-in-law in her childhood as Ex-ur-ex-eze.
posted by BWA at 6:22 AM on June 13


x (and to a lesser extent z) are the letters in the english language that most signify futurity. by giving medicines names that include x and z, companies indicate that the medicine in question is super high tech future space science and that therefore you should definitely take it.

These drugs all sound to me like bad guys on Captain Planet (assuming it had bad guys, it was after my time): "You won't get away with this, Zocor! Energize!"
posted by thelonius at 6:48 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


> These drugs all sound to me like bad guys on Captain Planet (assuming it had bad guys, it was after my time)

the chief villains on captain planet were hoggish greedly, verminous skumm, duke nukem (no relation to the videogame character), scott pruitt, sly sludge, doctor blight, ryan zinke, looten plunder, and their leader, zarm, a planetary spirit who’s kind of the anti-gaia. of these only zarm and zinke have x or z in their name.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:28 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Kattullus: "Hold on, is X a symbol for "kiss" because it makes a "ks" sound?

This changes everything.
"

Wikipedia says it's because of the use of X as a symbol for Christ, fwiw.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:40 AM on June 13


I see what you did there, RNTP.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:40 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Huh. I always thought "x" signified a kiss because it (sort of) looks like a profile of two mouths kissing. And an "o" is a hug because the arms are encircling.
posted by queensissy at 9:26 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


I know at some point (grade school?) I came across an animal alphabet that used "xerus" (African ground squirrel) for X. I've only ever seen that once.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:28 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


OH! And while I was looking at this lovely list (including some critters I'd be happy to see as X representatives), I was reminded of my own first (and dearly loved, and unfortunately completely unrepresented online) alphabet book from childhood, The ABC of Bumptious Beasts by Gail Kredenser and Stanley Mack. That one featured a poem about a xenopus, or African clawed frog.

I remember a good number of those poems--likely the first I ever memorized--but not that one, unfortunately.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:39 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


the chief villains on captain planet were .....

Well, I can't be bothered with details. I stand by my theory.
posted by thelonius at 9:46 AM on June 13


X is for Malcolm, who fought with the Man.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:12 AM on June 13 [9 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the go-to critter in Spanish alphabet books is the ñandu.
posted by polecat at 1:31 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


"X is a letter that seldom is used,
But it's shape will remind us how sinners abused
Their Saviour and God, when, with brute, cruel force,
They compelled Him to bleed and to die on the cross ! "

Come on, I don't care how pious you are, this is overreaching.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:43 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Chrystostom: Wikipedia says it's because of the use of X as a symbol for Christ, fwiw

That’s definitely in the unlikely enough to be probably true category. But the “ks” makes a lot more intuitive sense, which is why it’s probably wrong.
posted by Kattullus at 2:52 PM on June 13


I'm surprised that none of these sources mention using X as a signature or mark on a document. Perhaps the authors didn't want to normalize illiteracy? Didn't want to get into the fine points of signatures in contract law?
posted by unknown knowns at 9:44 PM on June 14


Oh wait

X is for XOR
Made from four NANDs
It sends forth entropy
through all our lands
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:01 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


well now I want the next Zachtronics game to be about building a circuit logic abecedary.
posted by cortex at 8:09 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


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