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That time I wanted to pass myself off as Joyce Carol Oates #TBT

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I submitted my first piece of writing when I was seventeen, a story about my first job, working at the employee cafeteria at General Telephone where my mother was a dispatcher. Rolling the 20# white bond backed by a sheet of thin blue carbon paper into my Smith Corona, I typed it out slowly, carefully, on a piece of erasable paper—and mailed it off to Cosmopolitan along with a cover letter. Not just to any editor at Cosmo, by the way, I sent it directly to Helen Gurley Brown. 

The piece itself, meant to be comical, was full of clumsy attempts at self-effacing humor.  I strived for a similar tone in the cover letter I addressed to Brown, completely clueless that the high powered editor in chief wasn’t the one reading unsolicited manuscripts. After I signed off I added the following PS. I could have said I was Joyce Carol Oates. What I thought that would accomplish I can’t imagine. That an unsatisfactory submission would get published because of a lame joke? 

No surprise, in the SASE I’d …

How do you say Z?

Z Zzzz
How do you pronounce the letter "Z"?  If you say Z so that it rhymes with bee, then chances are you're an American. But if you say Zed, as in Ed wets the bed, then you're most likely from the British Isles or one of the other English speaking, probably commonwealth, countries of the world; Australia, New Zealand, Canada. Places where the Queen's portrait hangs on the classroom wall, and peers down at perps in your local constabulary.  Actually I hear Canadians are mixed on the subject of Z, they're so nice and accommodating they go both ways. 

While there's not a right or wrong way to say it, as those of us who live in America say, the letter is derived from the Greek letter 'zeta' and most other countries pronounce it similarly to the British way. Zéde in French, Zet in German, Zeta in Italian. While the way we say it in the states—Zee, rhyming with bee and oh gee—isn't exactly wrong, it's not right either. It's just different. 


Viva la difference, right? Except when you're a little kid. Kids just want to be the same as all the other kids, to fit in, to blend. Easier said than done if you're a child transferring to a new school in the middle of the school year, especially if you're coming from an English school to an American school. Back in the 50's, when my family left England for Tripoli, Libya, the Zee/Zed dilemma caused my big brother no end of grief. He was going to school on the American Airforce base, Wheelus, sitting alongside the sons and daughters of American air force pilots but he was a little British boy through and through. It was like plopping down Charles Dicken's Oliver in the middle of a Leave it to Beaver episode.To the other kids' ears my brother Russell already talked funny and used the wrong word for things. He called trucks 'lorries' and said 'porridge' when he meant oatmeal. And he didn't even know how to say the alphabet right. The simplest thing in the world. Even babies knew the alphabet.


"Zed! Teacher, teacher, he doesn't even know how to say Z!"


"We say Zee" the teacher told him, patiently teaching him the correct way, the American way. By the time he finally got it into his thick skull, he'd acquired a taste for french fries rather than chips, American westerns, and a coveted Davy Crockett hat. And he'd mostly muffled his British accent. He didn't sound like an American but he didn't sound like a Brit either. 


He wasn't one thing or the other, as he discovered when we went back to England a few years later. Just as the American children had snickered, so did the English children, refusing to believe he was British, just like them. 


"You're a Yank!" they giggled at his Zee and his hybridized accent. 


"I'm not!" I imagine him getting red in the face, stamping his sock & sandaled foot. 


Ah, but the proof is in the pudding. And pudding, in case you didn't know, isn't just pudding to a Brit, pudding is anything that we Yanks call dessert. 


Pot—AY—to, Pot—AH—to, Tom—AY—to, Tom—AH—to, Zee, Zed. Let's call the whole thing off.




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Finally! Zee VS Zed is my last, final tardy, tardy, tardy entry into the April #AtoZChallenge. The Letter Z! Project complete.

Comments

  1. What an appropriate topic for the letter Z! That would be a really hard thing to train myself to say differently. The letters seem so basic somehow.

    Thanks for playing along with British Isles Friday!

    ReplyDelete

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