Amongst the English speaking world, though we often spell words a different way, our dialects and regionalisms take the similar language into new and different areas, we still share the same alphabet. We all share a common set of 26 letters . . . right up to the last letter where we deviate on pronunciation.
The majority of the English speaking world vocalizes the letter “Z” as “zed.” Whereas, in the U.S., we say, “zee.” Either way is fine. Who cared? It didn’t affect me. Until last week, when it infested my home and threatened the very serenity of my family.
For my daughter’s first birthday we received a litany of noise making items. One of which was a musical “teaching” table that consists of a bunch of noise making buttons or flaps or twirly doodles. My daughter spins a spindly rattle thing and it triggers the Alphabet Song. You know, that other thing it seems all English speaking people share in common, aka the ABC’s song, the one sung to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” The song that lends itself naturally to the rhythm and flow of the English alphabet to help children, drunk adults, and that intern who’s probably stoned tasked with filing, to remember the order of the ABCs.
The recorded song began normally, I sang along (beautifully, I might add, it’s my audition tape for Broadway now) when the last letter hit and everything I knew about rhythm and rhyme ran face first into a wall of “zed.” Quickly I scrambled, snatching the toy out of my already crying daughter’s fists, her world view shattered. What little she had been taught, what little she knew as truth was thrown off the cliff of certainty onto the jagged rocks of confusion. That was when I saw the manufacturer’s label. This singing table was made in–well, China, but the voice recordings and scripting was Canadian. Gasp.
In the context of the Alphabet Song, “zee” is the only iteration that makes sense. It fits the rhyme scheme. I know that “zed” is closer to the Greek origin of “Zeta,” but that doesn’t make it right in the context of the song. That’s like quibbling about a rapper’s diction. It doesn’t fit the song.
Let’s put aside that all of the other letters are pronounced as a representation of the letter’s sound in speech (except for “double-u” but that’s like that uncle of yours with the dead tooth that he refuses to acknowledge even though it’s turning brown and he can afford to fix it, he just bought a new Harley, but he’d rather just never smile? Yeah, that’s “W.”) There are eight other letters that tie together the entire rhyme-scheme of the Alphabet Song, with “Z” being the climax. It even leads into the coda, “next time won’t you sing with me.” It’s not, “won’t you sing with Fred,” or even “sing this damn song until you’re dead.” It’s “sing with me!”
A, B, C (already two rhymes), D, E (oh, there’s another two) F, G, (bam, end first stanza with a strong, 5-out-of-7, well-established rhyme)
H, I, J, K, LMNOP (rush through that section just to hit that P strong)
Q, R, S, T, U, V (we barely even touched that T because right around the corner was V!)
W, X (slow it down, bring it home, baby), Y and ZED. (Wait, what? Every stanza, leading up to that big finally and you’re going to dump on it with a fat, leaden “zed?” Even Billy Joel couldn’t have screwed that song up worse.)
Now I know my ABC’s, next time won’t you sing with me? (Hmm, it’s almost like this final postscript was meant to rhyme with EVERY OTHER STANZA!)
Go ahead, orally spell “zoo” as “zed-oh-oh,” I don’t care, but don’t assault me and my family aurally by farting out “zed” at the end of a perfectly good alphabet song. (Don’t worry, I smashed that “learning” table with a baseball bat in front of my toddler.)