There is a famous song for learning your ABC’s, to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” (You can listen to Mozart’s virtuoso variations on it here.) When I first came to the United States, American children used to sing the ABC song like this:
Y & Zee
Now I know my ABC
Tell me what you think of me.
But sometime in the 1970’s or 1980’s, or so I imagine, my generation of New Age parents felt that this version was too evaluative and could place an unacceptable degree of performance anxiety on their children. Their new version, now the dominant one, ended like this:
Now I know my ABC
Next time won’t you sing with me?
This child-friendly version presented the teacher and the children as equals, joining together in a shared learning enterprise.
The British version of ABCD that I was raised on was altogether different, so I searched YouTube for it. Aha! Surely the ABCD song on the British Council website would be the traditional version. But no, it was the new America version trying pathetically and disappointingly to preserve a thin veneer of Englishness: nothing but the American version with the British Zed tacked on.
In my childhood, children were taught their place in no uncertain terms:
UVW XY Zed
Sugar on your bread
All good children go to bed.
No nonsense about sharing or equality. After reciting their lessons, good children will go off to bed as they are told to do, and without a fuss. No ifs, ands, or buts. Still, unlike the saccharine-sweet American version that now seems to have gained near-universal status, English children were compensated with bread, butter, and sugar. Delicious, and right before bed, too. So crunchy and calming. So good for the teeth.
I searched the entire Internet in vain for my childhood version. The closest I could come was this bossy-pants of a little Indian girl who recited, sing-song style:
Sugar on the bread
If you don’t like it you can go to bed.
In India, as in Canada and many other ex-colonial countries, many people still say Zed, although Zee is gaining ground.
In regard to the pronunciation of the last letter of the English alphabet, take your pick, but I know what I like. Zed is the older form, apparently derived from the Greek Zeta (which is the sixth letter of its alphabet, far from holding pride of place at the end), in its turn taken from the Phoenician Zayid. The U.S. Zee, it seems, is a late- 17th Century English dialectal form brought over by early English colonists.
While I was looking all this up, I discovered that Izzard is an old form of Zed. This gives me an entirely gratuitous excuse to include Eddie Izzard, one of my favorite stand-up comedians, discoursing here on British and American English.
And while I’m on the subject of British comedians, what better way to close out the 2013 April A-to-Z Challenge than with the A-to-Zed of Monty Python?
CODA: In the The Apple Pie ABC, the alphabet doesn’t end with Z, but with ampersand. Taking its cue, as the 2013 Blogging from A to Z Challenge comes to an end, I will do the same, and hope thereby to be granted a continuance. Thanks to the organizers and to all the bloggers I visited, and who visited me in turn. Do come again.