"Why the Letter Q
Has a Slanted Tail"
"Why the Letter Q
Has a Slanted Tail"
The letter Q sat mournfully on the forest floor. His slanted tail swiped at a bullfrog and missed.
Grackle-bird, watching from a tree, swooped down next to Q. “Bad day?” inquired Grackle.
“All my days are bad,” muttered Q.
Grackle considered. “Seems a fine oval fellow like you, with your slanted tail, would have excellent days.”
“It's a neck, not a tail,” corrected Q. “And the fine oval fellow is the letter O, not Q. I'm malformed.”
“Because you have a tail and O doesn't?” asked Grackle.
Q frowned. “I told you it's a neck.”
“Alright, it's a neck,” Grackle shrugged. “I thought it was a tail because it's slanted on your body. A neck comes straight down.”
Q sighed. “I always wanted to look like O, perfect and smooth. No extra parts like this silly neck. Although in the beginning it made sense.”
“The alphabet already has an O,” observed Grackle. “Why would it need another O?”
“I'd hoped to be a double-O,” explained Q, “an O inside an O, like a doughnut. Double perfection. Instead the other letters played that terrible joke on me.”
Q sighed again. “Thousands of years ago, in a completely different alphabet, I had a handsome neck. Folks called the Phoenicians [fuh-NEE-shuns] let me join their alphabet. I looked like a circle, with a line going from the top of the circle down through the middle and out the bottom. My name was Qoph [KOFE]. Some people think Qoph meant ‘head,’ because I looked like the back of a head with a neck. Others think Qoph meant ‘monkey.’ Personally I'd rather be a head than a monkey, and have a neck, not a tail. Anyway, the letters respected me back then.”
“What went wrong?” inquired Grackle.
“For centuries, nothing,” continued Q. “Other people put me in their alphabets. The Aramaeans [air-uh-MAY-uns], the Greeks, the Etruscans [ih-TRUS-kuns], the Romans... Sometimes my neck started at the top of my head, sometimes at the bottom. But it always went straight down. I always looked good. Then after the Romans had me awhile, the other letters played their joke.”
“What joke?” pressed Grackle.
Q shivered. “They called me crazy for wishing to be a double-O. They decided I should look as mixed-up as I felt. They yanked my neck sideways to make it slanted and ridiculous. Then they made sure I got left out of most words.”
“Surely you've noticed,” chided Q. “The letters A, B, R, S—they're in thousands of words. So are the other letters, except maybe X and Z. X is too busy crossing things out to care, and Z just loves being the baby.”
“Actually,” Grackle mused, “Q is in the most important English words.”
Q snorted. “Give me one example.”
“I'll give you three examples,” offered Grackle. “Quicksand, unique, and res-Q.”
“Res-Q doesn't count!” argued Q. “Rescue is R-E-S-C-U-E. C, not Q!”
“Alright, not rescue,” admitted Grackle. “But quicksand is extremely important.”
“Quicksand is a dangerous, muddy mess,” huffed Q.
“Precisely. And you're unique enough to conquer that. Come with me.” Spreading his wings, Grackle flew through the forest. Q wrapped his neck against his body and rolled after Grackle.
Minutes later, they arrived at a broad, murky, caramel-colored pond. Fifteen people floated slowly around the pond on their backs, yelling for help. Grackle perched on a large rock overhanging the pond.
“The shoreline is squishy,” Grackle informed Q. “The people can't climb out. This little rock cliff is strong. It's too high for swimmers to reach, but if you roll to the edge and hang your slanted neck down, maybe they can grab it.”
Q gulped. “Grab my neck?”
“This pond is quicksand!” screeched Grackle. “These people were running a marathon and fell in! Some have been backstroking since yesterday!”
Q rolled to the edge of the rock cliff. Draping his slanted neck gingerly over the rim, he called, “Try to get hold of my neck!” A swimmer inched his prone body through the quicksand to the cliff. Reaching up, the man grasped Q's neck. Tugging against the quicksand, Q reeled backward, slurping the man out of the quicksand and onto the rock.
“Thank you,” panted the barefoot man. “Quicksand tastes atrocious.”
Rolling once more to the edge, Q dropped his neck toward the muck. A girl floated below him, eager for escape. She gripped his neck fiercely, and he hauled her to safety. “A marathon is easy compared to twenty-six hours in quicksand,” she breathed, rubbing her toes.
Again and again Q rolled across the cliff, dangling his slanted neck toward the mire, pulling out runner after runner. At last everyone stood on dry ground. No one wore shoes.
“You certainly are unique, whoever you are,” they told Q. “Thank you for rescuing us.”
“My name is Q. You're welcome.”
“Q the letter?” they asked. “The letter with the slanted tail?”
“It's a neck,” he told them. “I'm the letter with the slanted neck. You see me occasionally in words.”
“We see you every day,” they smiled. “You're in the most important words, like unique, and quicksand, and res-Q.”
“I'm glad you find me unique,” Q blushed. “And we’ll remember the quicksand. But rescue is R-E-S-C-U-E. C, not Q.”
“He certainly spells funny,” the people whispered. But they thanked him again and resumed their marathon, without shoes.
“Guess I'll be on my way,” announced Grackle. “When you see the alphabet, be sure to tell the letters you're unique. Your slanted tail proved immensely useful.”
“It's a neck,” insisted Q. But Grackle had flown away. Q wrapped his neck against his body and rolled through the forest to rejoin the alphabet.
© Suzanne Werkema