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Month: July 2023

The Great Vowel Deception

Once you get past rote memorization and singing along to Mozart’s most nototious composition, most likely the first thing you learn about the English alphabet is that it has 21 consonants and 5 vowels.

This is a blatant lie.

Even though some will hedge their bets, implying that one or more letters are actually dual-purpose and “sometimes” act as vowels, the hard fact is that there are really only 19 consonants in English, and seven vowels: A, E, I, O, U, W, and Y.

The Sounds of W and Y

While some folks will insist that W and Y are usually consonants, the fact is that what we think of as the consonantal qualities of those two letters actually comes down to the laziness of the average English speaker; W and Y are vowels and it is slurring of their sounds that makes English speakers think they are consonants. W is a vowel representing the sound usually written in English as “oo” and Y is a vowel equivalent to the Greek letter upsilon, roughly equivalent to the long sound of the letter “E.”

Don’t believe me? Let’s try a few examples.

We’ll start with W, since that’s the one people have the hardest time with. Many people think that it’s only a vowel in Welsh words, like “cwm” or “crwth.” Yes, in those cases W’s status as a vowel is easy to see. But they are not the exception. In every case, W is pronounced like “ooh.” That’s because it is, as its name tells us up front, a double “U.”

Now let’s consider the word “water.” Say it aloud. Now consider it spelled “uater.” Say that word aloud. Now say it quickly. Now quicker. You will find the “u” slurring along with the “a” sound to create what you’ve come to think of as the “w” sound. It also works with two “o’s” representing the u sound.

It works for any word starting with W: wash (ooash), wet (ooet), west (ooest — in fact, the Spanish word is oeste pronounced the same way we say it with an “e” on the end). In every case where W starts a word, it’s an “oo” sound which blends in with the following vowel. It’s only because English tongues have gotten so lazy that we think of this slurring as a distinct consonant.

And when W is in the middle of a word? It’s usually forming a diphthong with another vowel. “Saw,” “sow,” “power,” “sewing,” “Hawthorne.” In each case the W is a part of a diphthong, not a distinctive sound.

Now let’s try Y.

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that both letters are relative newcomers to the Alphabet. The Romans called Y “Greek I,” and in Castilian Spanish it’s still called “i griega” as a result. And every word where we call Y a consonant, it’s actually an “i” sound at the beginning of the word that gets a little slurred: “ies,” “iak,” “iacht,” “ioke,” “iouth, “iankee doodle,” “she loves you ieah ieah ieah.”

So it’s time we finally admitted the basic fact of the matter. English has seven vowels: “A, E, I, O, U, W, and Y.” No “and sometimes” needed. Period.

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The creepiest radio show in history

In anticipation of making new posts here I’m sharing some posts from my old “PaBlog” that until now have been lost to posterity. This one is from March of 2011.

In a forum I take part in about British television and radio, there have been veritable paroxysms of joy about reruns of a particular “old time” radio show (although the BBC produces the genre we like to call “old time radio” to this day) that I think has to be the absolute creepiest thing ever broadcast. It’s called The Clitheroe Kid. Your typical smart-ass-kid family sitcom, the type that’s usually a dime a dozen, the Clitheroe Kid ran from 1957 until 1972.

You read that right. The star, Jimmy Clitheroe, played a mealy-mouthed smart-assed punk kid for 15 years. And if Clitheroe hadn’t killed himself on the day of his mother’s funeral he probably would have kept on playing it even longer.

You see, Jimmy Clitheroe had a thyroid condition. As a result, he never grew taller than 4-foot-3 and his voice never broke. This allowed him to keep playing the kid role long after he became an adult.

Creepy so far? Yes, but as the Ginzu Knife man says “wait, there’s more.” You see, the radio show started in 1957, but Clitheroe was born in 1921.

That’s right. Jimmy Clitheroe started starring in this ridiculously long running radio show, as a punk wise-ass kid, at the age of 36.

Before you go bringing up Gary Coleman and Emmanuel Lewis, two other actors with medical conditions that kept them short and relatively childlike, remember that both of them actually were children when they achieved fame on television; Coleman was 10 when Diff’rent Strokes debuted and Lewis was 12 when Webster came along. They actually were child stars. Clitheroe was a very short man with a high pitched voice (which became even higher through affectation) playing a kid all his life.

If you want a comparison, let’s use Gary Coleman as an example. If he had pursued the same career path that Clitheroe did, Diff’rent Strokes would have debuted in 2004, with Coleman still playing 10 year old Arnold Drummond. And (presuming he didn’t die as he did last year) he would keep playing 10 year old Arnold Drummond until 2019. Everyone else on the show would move on or die as the case may be, but Coleman would still be shuckin’ and jivin’ with “what you talkin’ ’bout…” lines playing a middle-aged 10 year old into his 50′s.

What little I’ve listened to The Clitheroe Kid, it strikes me as pretty much run of the mill fare for a 1950-something radio sitcom. The jokes are very much music-hall in delivery and the plots are formulaic. The character of Jimmy is one of the most annoying brats in broadcast history and you just want to haul back and smack him. If I didn’t know Clitheroe’s story, I would just find the show lackluster and irritating. Knowing that all those nasty remarks are coming from a guy who was right around my age when he was making them is like shoving two fingers down the throat of my good taste, hoping to purge the program (excuse me, this is the BBC we’re talking about, so programme) from my memory.

And that, my friends, is the creepiest thing in broadcast history.

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Woodstock: Why It Sucked. (Or, 40 Years of Peace, Love, and Wasted Promise)

In anticipation of making some new posts here in upcoming days, I thought I would share some posts from my old “PaBlog” that have been lost to posterity until now. This one originally ran in August of 2009.

After tomorrow, blessed be, we will finally be able to go another 10 years before we ever have to hear the name “Woodstock” referring to anything other than a bird.

Still, as much as I hate the hype around one of the worst-planned rock concerts in history – one that was so badly thought of at the time that Joni Mitchell, who would later make 2.8 shitloads of dollars off a song where she pretended to be there, thought it was more important to go on the Dick Cavett Show – I do think it is something to be studied. The problem is that while most people weave hagiographies to this travesty in a mud pit, I think it’s more important to study the complete and utter failure that Woodstock is in nearly every category.

First off, for what was supposedly the greatest rock concert in history, let’s look at a few of the artists of 1969 who were supposed to be at Woodstock, but all felt it was more important to not show up:

  • The Doors
  • The Byrds
  • Jethro Tull
  • Joni Mitchell (as mentioned above)
  • Led Zeppelin
  • The Moody Blues
  • Tommy James and the Shondells
  • Bob Dylan.

Really, now, the biggest concert of the 1960’s and you don’t have The Doors or Bob Dylan? Sure, the Beatles were breaking up and the Rolling Stones were in Britain, but you can’t land Bob Dylan, who lived a couple of towns over and was the voice of the generation that this festival was supposed to personify? Weak. Sure, you had The Who and Janis Joplin, but when the big draw on your bill is Creedence Clearwater Revival? Pack it in.

But even if we want to overlook the second-string lineup of acts (although some, like Crosby Stills & Nash would become even more famous after the fact), there is one area in which the sheer suckitude of Woodstock cannot be overemphasized. Sadly, that’s the one area that the whole big mess that the stoner revisionists and baby boomers keep bringing up. They keep pushing Woodstock as the height of a social movement and something to be proud of.

Know what? They’re full of shit.

Look at the defining moments of just a few recent generations. The generation before the Baby Boomers fought and won World War II and put a man on the moon. The generation before that brought us the height of American literature and arts. Before that, the Progressive Movement changed society forever and World War I changed the political face of the entire world.

And what did the Baby Boomers do? They got stoned, listened to some music, and fucked.

In the mud.

I’m sorry, but when the pinnacle moment of your generation includes the warning “don’t eat the brown acid,” I think you need to reevaluate your priorities.

The saddest thing about Woodstock is that, for all intents and purposes, it was the end of the Hippie movement. It was the peak, and everything else from that point on was downhill. The people at Woodstock could have been energized to go out and really change the world, like so many people have tried to make it out that they did. They didn’t. Nixonism reigned down in Washington. The Vietnam War got longer and bloodier. Domestic unrest and violence in our streets picked up. Peace and Love became just another bumper sticker. If the pre-Woodstock days were summed up by the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” the years after Woodstock were summed up by the Rutles’ “All You Need Is Cash.”

There were half a million hippies at Woodstock. 500,000! That’s a massive number of people, especially at that time. If the Hippies really wanted to change the world, end the war, etc., they could have marched two days south (on foot, in their vehicles they could have been there in hours) and brought Washington to a complete standstill. They could have made their voice and their message heard. Or the people could have dispersed from that point and gone home to organize; re-energized and encouraged by their experiences at Yasgur’s farm they could have left with a new commitment to carry their dreams and actually change the world.

Instead, they all dispersed and went home… where they got stoned, listened to music, and fucked. But at least this time mud wasn’t involved (in most cases).

Woodstock should be held up as the apotheosis of self-aggrandizement. It is a testament to the utter and complete failure of the Baby Boomers. Woodstock was the death rattle of the social movements that had come along in the late 60’s in America. The promise of a revolution of peace and love died with a whimper accentuated by the strains of Jimi Hendrix’ guitar. The Flower Power Company disconnected everyone due to non-payment. As the 6 in the year rolled up off the universe’s perpetual clock display to be replaced by a 7, it took with it everything that the hippies stood for. The memorial plaque at Yasgur’s Farm might as well have been a headstone.

Even The Who, who played their entire rock opera Tommy some time around 4 AM when probably 50 people were awake, recognized the sea change. Actually go listen to the lyrics of Won’t Get Fooled Again some time if you can avoid being distracted by Roger Daltrey ripping his vocal chords to shreds and Pete Townshend destroying his eardrums:

And nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” indeed.

And let’s also not forget that twice as many people died at Woodstock as died at Altamont a few months later.

In ten years, the 50th anniversary of the world’s most disastrous rock concert will come upon us. Everyone who attended the concert (with the possible exception of the two babies born there) will either be on Social Security, in a home, or dead. Maybe by then cooler heads will prevail and those of us who happen to be left half-alive (as Townshend wrote) will be able to cast a serious eye on Woodstock and recognize it for what it really was: three days of escapism, drugs, self-importance, and wasted youth. It really was a teenaged wasteland, and those who hold it up as anything but do the entire world a disservice.

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