I emerged from the bathroom amid a backlit cloud of steam wearing naught but my jewelry and ink. After a moment of pensive consideration, I declared that my favorite letter was officially the capital H and retreated to my office to write about it.
My poor husband was stupefied.
But such is life with a writer! It’s not that writers lay claim to strange and random thoughts, but rather we possess the inclination to delve into both the fantastic and the mundane. Not only can we lose ourselves to outlandish (and often ridiculous) daydreams, but we can also find a peculiar fascination in the commonplace.
And on this particular day, it was the letter H that captivated me. Or, the capital H, to be more precise. How I came to entertain this idea is a mystery, to be sure, but I can confirm that I spent the better part of a long, hot shower exploring the notion and developing my supporting arguments.
I shall begin with my Five-pronged Overall Excellence Support Matrix. (I made that up.) This will be followed by my Defense Against Posers and Dilettantes, a solid nod at the runner-up, and then I will conclude it with a tidy, standard… er, conclusion.
THE FIVE-PRONGED OVERALL EXCELLENCE SUPPORT MATRIX
So, my FOESM opens strong with an appeal to symmetry. The capital letter H is the same forward, backward, right side up, and upside down. Beautiful. There are only four capital letters that can boast such symmetrical perfection, and fewer still lowercase letters. Even sideways, the capital H still arguably presents as a capital letter I, albeit a wonky one. But hey, I dig wonky. More on the I later.
(…You’re staring at the keyboard trying to figure out the others. That’s all right, I did, too. Ya got ’em, champ? Okay, moving on.)
Next, I give you visual composition. At first glance, it may appear a bit stuffy. Upright. Rigid. Unyielding. But to a creative and imaginative individual like myself, the capital H looks inviting and fun! Imagine being able to step onto the page, to walk among the letters sporting a sassy 12-point font. I dance across the page, hopping from line to line and weaving my way through woven words, when there it is… it’s the capital H, offering me the perfect, proper seat. Without hesitation, I would hop up onto the crossbeam, grabbing the uprights for balance. I’d cross my legs at the ankle, list to one side, and wrap both arms around a single support in a subtle display of delicate femininity. Or, just as easily, I might hoist myself upon the H like a gymnast, playfully kicking my legs to and fro. A child on the playground, I’d be but a giggling breath away from hooking my knees over the crossbeam and dangling backward to tickle the page with tousled curls. Then, all tuckered out, or perhaps succumbing to the writer’s introspection, I would find that it offers a place of repose as well. I could prop myself up inside it like I might in a favored reading nook, huddled against the upright with one leg dangling over the edge. Or, should I favor the idea of a nap, the H provides the perfect shelter for me to curl up beneath, a drowsy kitten in a cozy corner. Dreamy.
As I move on to my third point in the FOESM, I’ll expand my reasoning into a new layer that explores the excellence of the letter regardless of its upper- or lowercase presentation. Let’s look at its linguistic function. The letter H is absolutely, undeniably the simplest letter to pronounce: just breathe out. In fact, if you happen to be open-mouth breathing right now as you’re reading this, then you are passively pronouncing the letter H. Well done!
H also plays well with others. An affable letter, it blends. I give you…
And even the ghastly /gh/ (though somewhat inconsistent in its presentation, but that rests squarely on g… g is a bit of a weirdo). And let’s not neglect its relationship with the vowels. Ah! Uh, eh? Oh! Where would we be without these exceedingly useful exclamatory pairings? (Although the letter I does take exception. The I refuses to stand paired with the H, but then the I is, shall we say, a bit proud. Something of a loner, the I prefers to stand tall and alone.)
The fourth prong of support for overall excellence is a simple one but one that must not be overlooked in this technologically advanced world: its placement. Look down at your keyboard. The letter H is directly in the center, right smack in the middle of all the action. Further, if you received formal instruction in typing technique, the letter H is executed with the most prominent finger (for a majority of the population, anyway), and that’s the right index finger. Hit that H!
And lastly, the fifth and final aspect in my Five-pronged Overall Excellence Support Matrix is somewhat silly, I will admit, however I think you will see my point. It has to do with the enunciation of the letter. Say the letter aloud and take notice of how you pronounce it. (Just whisper it, no one’s paying any attention.) “Aitch.” It’s clear and unique. It doesn’t lend itself to rhyme like bee and its eight annoying siblings. It’s nothing as banal as eff, kay, or em, as predictably campy as why or pee, nor as demanding as the obnoxiously-named double-yoo. And I find its syllabic ambiguity simply delightful. Is it one syllable? Do you simply spit it out like the word ‘itch’? Or perhaps you lean on the voiceless stop consonant: ae-ch. I trend toward the latter myself, although you could argue either point. But it is a little ornery, isn’t it? It sounds like the letter A for the briefest of moments—aaaeee—until you tack on that -ch with a smirk. Ornery! I love it.
THE DEFENSE AGAINST POSERS AND DILETTANTES
Now that I have successfully convinced you of the inherent greatness of the capital H, I present to you my arguments against several of its contenders. First up: the letter I.
While equally symmetrical, the capital I lacks the whimsy of H. The potential for ambiguity is highly disturbing. Without the defining arms on either end (or at the very least the application of serifs) it’s just a line. A stick. Could be a lowercase el. Could be the Arabic numeral one. Could even be the stray mark of a scribbling pen or simply the curser standing poised at the ready. What is that vertical line? Whatever it is, to a 12-point visitor on the page it offers little more than a post to lean on.
The capital I can also act the loner, as stated earlier. While true that the letter a can be a loner as well, it’s much more unassuming and is perfectly happy presenting itself in its humble lowercase form. Don’t misunderstand, the i can certainly play along with others—vowels are generally friendly and stick together, after all—but the capital I is, well… it’s rather self-absorbed.
Next, I cite the letter O. Or the letter o. Same difference. Boring. Trite. It’s a circle, and circles are everywhere. There’s a circle in my sink. There’s a circle on the floor. There’s a circle on the ceiling and a circle on the door. There’s a circle in the sky, in the center of my eye, on the road, on a toad, on a pepperoni pie good grief I’m rhyming! The circle is ancient, culturally pervasive, and deeply symbolic, very true. But it feels so very played out.
The O (yep, still on O) is also nearly as ambiguous as the I. Is that an oh or a zero? Or maybe it’s just a design on the page. Speaking of design, have you ever seen a monogrammed O? I mean, what even is that? I had a heckuva time designing my wedding favors when I married Mr. Owen.
Since we’re on the subject of names, let’s do D. “Your name begins with a D!” Yes. And what are we, seven? Further, that D adjacent to a non-standard vowel coupling often perpetuates a common mispronunciation of my name. This then leads down a slippery slope that lands squarely on the dreaded ‘Dee-dee.’ For the love of all that is green on this Earth, do not call me Deedee.
“DD, double-dees *snicker*” Oh, grow up. I’m a humble b-cup.
Let’s get to the good one: X.
Oh, X! The letter X could be a solid runner-up for many of the same reasons I’ve settled on the H. The X (capital or lowercase) possesses even stronger symmetry than the H—up, down, forward, backward, and sideways—while still maintaining its integrity as a singular letter of the alphabet. Impressive. The enunciation of the letter is also less than boring: ecks. It lingers, doesn’t it? Eck-ksss. And its visual composition is also quite pleasing. It certainly draws the eye. Two solid strokes in direct opposition, perpendicular, destined to cross paths only once as we bear witness on the page and then to carry on into the fullness of eternity, never to meet again. Such drama!
Words with X are often fun, too. You’re thinking of a bunch of them right now. You started with something plebian like ‘excellent’ but then rejected it for something more intriguing like… ex-… hmm. Oo, xenial! You heard that once. Then you looked up ‘xenial’ and discovered it didn’t mean what you thought it did and now you’re learning! See? So much fun.
Is it too interesting, though? It has something of a reputation, doesn’t it. It seems to carry a kind of taboo. For instance, the well-loved ‘X’ on a map promises adventure but also insinuates danger. Rapids and snakes and booby-traps, watch out! Regarding a more modern application, the X is a universal discourager, commonly conveying directives like no, don’t, and stop. Another brush with taboo occurred a paragraph ago when you were thinking of fun words with X… you couldn’t help but go to sex. You did, don’t deny it! You absolutely went there, that irresistible taboo, and sex is all kinds of messy, innit? (Read into that as you will.) And let’s not forget about entanglements with The Ex. That’s just bad juju.
Finally, to the 12-point visitor, the X simply looks uncomfortable. As the H provides a proper place for rest or a platform for play, the X looks like the kind of apparatus designed to deter loitering. “Move along, please. Nothing to see here.” Worst. Seat. Ever.
The capital H is a pretty great letter, isn’t it? It is comfortable and unexpectedly playful, defying its initially rigid appearance; it is humble and unassuming, despite its general prominence. The H is friendly and undemanding, easy to get along with, affable, amenable, really quite dependable, and frankly, we simply wouldn’t be the same without it.
I think… I think H is kinda my Hero.
Thanks for reading.
This essay contains 30 instances of the capital letter H and 363 of the lowercase h (in case you were wondering).