Orderly letters: The Alphabetical Opening Ceremony

There comes a moment in every council meeting or concert or symposium when you look at your watch and calculate when you are going to be able to get up and walk out of there.

Like a miles-per-hour calculation, our minds start a feverish computation of how much material there is still to cover, to the power of whatever old fogey is bowling this thing along, divided by the discomfort of an over-taxed bottom and the relative surface of the chair.

Last night the Shrewsday family sat down on comfy, if well-worn sofas, pre-warmed by dogs who shouldn’t have been there because they’re not allowed on the chairs, to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

The hour between nine and ten flew by. The children, despite our best intentions, were still up. I ushered them off to bed like one of those Mary Poppinses who chased off Voldemort which such umbrella-armed effiiciency.

And then it was the parade.

Three of us sat there, me, Phil and my Mother in law, watching everyone walk by with huge beams on their faces.

In alphabetical order.

Apart from Greece, who came first as usual. Then there were 14 countries beginning with A. And 19 countries beginning with B. By the time they got to C we were glad of those dog-eared sofas.

“We’re going to be here all night!” exclaimed Phil, a note of slight hysteria in his voice.

My mother in law, an unsung logico-mathematical hero, was thinking ahead, calculating the countries who could be in the ‘C’ category. The whole thing took on the surreal feeling of a crossword puzzle. Who would come next?

The answer? 19 ‘C’s. Starting with Cambodia, finishing with the Czech republic.

Only 23 more letters to go.

I couldn’t stand the pace. I bailed out at ‘T’, leaving Phil strict instructions to brief me on the rest.

Alphabetical order: fine if your name is Adams, less enchanting if you’re called Zimmerman. An algorithm which dominates our lives and our watches and occasionally, our very self worth.

It is fortunate that Iceland was not running the games, because Zimbabwe and Zaire would have been drinking coffee in the changing rooms, for the Icelandic alphabet has no Z.

And one must be thankful that the Welsh contribution was ‘Bread of Heaven’ and not their alphabetical order. There, ph, rh, and th are considered single letters. I have no idea of the reasons behind this baffling ordering lifted from Wikipedia: LAWR, LWCUS, LLONG, LLOM, LLONGYFARCH.

It has been round since the Romans at least: Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro wrote lots of alphabetical lists. But it was not until the dawn of the seventeenth century that someone thought about ordering them in a dictionary.

Written by a troublesome clergymam who simply would not preach the state-approved sermons, A Table Alphabetical  was the first attempt to publish a monolingual dictionary. Robert Cawdrey not only listed words in alphabetical order, from abandon to zodiack; he explained the process too.

“If thou be desirous (gentle Reader) right-ly and readily to vnderstand, and to profit by this Table, and such like,”, he writes, “then thou must learne the Alphabet, to wit, the order of the Letters as they stand, perfecty without booke, and where euery Letter standeth: as (b) neere the beginning, (n) about the mid-dest, and (t) toward the end. ”

Where every letter standeth.

So Afghanistan standeth at the beginning when I was still awake: and Zimbabwe standeth at the end, when a bleary-eyed Phil and his mother were propping their eyes open with matchsticks.

We were all captive, last night, to the tyrannical, immoveable algorithm that is alphabetical order.

Picture source here


52 thoughts on “Orderly letters: The Alphabetical Opening Ceremony

  1. I was in bed before D. The only Z is saw was z-z-z-z-z. When a ceremony is directed by a film director it stands to reason that one will be able to watch it on film when it suits one, which is what will happen. In the same way, we’ll be able see Usain Bolt run the 100ms in slow motion several thousand times before the games are over. When I say “one” or “we” it doesn’t mean “me”::)

  2. I went to bed after 1 am!
    I felt sorry for those who went in first… they had to stand there, possibly with full bladders, while everyone else trooped in! Ha

    Best bits? Queen Liz and Bond, those butterfly bikes at the end, and some of the fireworks. I liked the flags on the hill and the flame flower, but some of the elements early on were, as Techie said, ‘rather cheesy’

    1. Like Branagh, his stovepipe hat and air of smug satisfaction? I hear this morning some Tory MP is cross because it was all too left wing. He obviously didn’t note the air time devoted to the capitalist mill owners (who made their money off the backs of the poor, and used children to do some of the most dangerous work).

      Stop me, stop me. I liked the Queen and Bond too. I missed the butterfly bikes. Phil insists they were meant to be doves. Rushing off now to watch reruns.

  3. The Welsh have double letters because they represent sounds – there are 27 letters in the Welsh alphabet and once you know them you can pronounce any word without any bother.

    Unlike English where ghoti could quite easily stand for fish

    gh as in tough = F
    o as in women = I
    ti as in motion = SH

    Merry Christmas

    1. Hi Nonny! Great to have a Welsh expert to explain. Our focus today is the sounds at the beginning of the word, not the middle: can you explain whether, and why, the string of welsh words above is in correct Welsh alphabetical order? It would enlighten us considerably.

      1. It’s because in a Welsh dictionary L and Ll are different letters and so all the L words are listed in the correct alphabetical sequence, followed by the Ll words. Similarly with D and Dd.

        In some Welsh orthography a century ago the Ll sound (pronounced as H followed by L) was written with H and L ‘ligatured’ and looking a little like narrow rugby posts with a single shadow on the ground to the right, if you can picture this!

        I say this all very knowledgably, I hasten to add, after two years learning Welsh badly over half a decade ago.

  4. The joys of the alphabet. Apparently the ampersand was always part of the English alphabet until very recently and I’m surprised that the infamous LL is not part of the Welsh one. J, K, W, Y and Z also disappear in Italian too, so I’m not quite sure of how they would proceed whereas the Polish have three Zs to make up for it and a funny L with a line that is a W. There are clearly dangers in putting too much trust and zeal in the alphabetisation of the world! 🙂

  5. I taped it and will watch later today. Our Rotary District had a reception last night for Ambassadorial Scholar candidates and today we interview all 12 of them which will take pretty much all day. Oh, by the way, we won’t interview them in alphabetical order. 🙂

    1. Whoa, Lou, that’s a full day! I hope you have had time to wash in the creek and shave. You were looking rough on Andra’s blog today. Rough but impressive. Characters like yours – as through the glass of the Accidental Cootchie Mama – laugh in the face of alphabetical order, I’m almost certain.

      Those candidates: they’d better shape up reeeeeeeel good.

      1. Yes, Andra’s post with the pic Kennethized was pretty cool. The Scholar candidates were great and now we have 5 new Scholars going out in the fall of 2013. Fab young folks.

  6. We were, and across thousands of miles we smiled together at Mr Bean, wished to be the Queen being fetched by James Bond (I wonder if he held her hand or took other liberties in the helicopter?) and then got all emotional when our own team came through, so fast we didn’t have much time to enjoy it.

  7. Alas, I stayed ’til Zimbabwe, only because I started watching just after the Greeks came in, having missed the very beginning, which I really, really wanted to see. I caught perhaps 4 1/2 minutes of the agricultural part before my meeting last night began. Sigh. Your athletes “did you proud”, Kate.

      1. That didn’t work either, but, I am not easily deterred and finally found it at:
        http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2012/07/28/60006-cumberbatch-narrates-2012-olympics-bbc-feature/ We just needed some Hobbits to help.

        I did see the ceremony just now through our cable connection and a little used feature we have called OnDemand. My wish was granted and I was able to see the whole ceremony, Kate – and loved it all. How novel. Bring novels, literature, words, for gosh sake, into the Olympics. Here’s to Great Britain and a wonderful opening ceremony. Thanks for the links, your attempts, and for being you.

  8. We watched until the C’s started parading in . . . then gave up the ghost.

    I enjoyed the aerials the best ~ the arrival of an army of Poppins via umbrella drop . . . the forging of the Olympic rings . . . and, of course, the Queen popping in “via parachute” with Bond.

    It’s good to be visiting Shrewsday again. 😀

    1. Oh, Nancy, not as good as it is to be visited 😀 So very good to hear you, however sporadically. Your Telstar post was just fantastic. I do hope life is settling into some kind of rhythm for you all.

  9. Ah, if only the U.S. of A could have been in the “A’s” instead of way down the line. (But there are 4 parts of America: Canada, United States, Central and South America. So that line up would be out of the question.) I didn’t catch the opening, will do so via the internet and the news.

    I would have loved to see the Queen’s stunt double parachute along with Bond, one of my favorite characters.

    1. It was way cool: mainly because it was so surprising! The Queen ahs never done anything like this before and I doubt she ever will again- she usually remains so detached. Lovely to see her sense of humour coming out.

  10. I think I was watching a delayed broadcast, as the ceremonies on TV here ran roughly 6:30 pm to 11 pm. Our announcers commented repeatedly about how they’d never seen the parade of nations move so quickly. Really? I thought it was interminable. Somehow they need to shorten the ceremonies so as not to bore the viewers and also so as not to exhaust the athletes. We heard several explanations of the swimmers and gymnasts not being there because they had to compete the next day, and the ceremonies would be just too exhausting (standing for 6 hours, or some such thing). The ceremonies should be planned so that all the athletes can participate.

    Have a great Olympics, London!

  11. I don’t have TV so the only olympics i see have been little snippets on the Old Codgers tele.. As usual i have had just as much fun reading your readers comments as i did reading your essay.. How the opening ceremony hold anyones attention i do not know.. c

    1. The first hour was pretty cool, Celi, though it played the British card very hard indeed. But those parades: interminable. Necessarily so, because everyone deserves their moment. But endless. Hope the old codger is enjoying it!

      1. on telly…wish I could in person, but then again the crowds….not sure I like being squashed in the tube. I’ll leave that to those of stronger metal. Are you lucky enough to go to any of the events?

    1. Yes, I too loved the Mary Poppinses (is that the plural?), the bikes (though I think they were meant to be doves of peace) and the beautiful concept for the Olympic cauldron (though I saw posted comparisons with Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire and the Olympic Rings as Sauron’s forging of the Rings of Power, which rather took the shine off it all).

      I also enjoyed Rowan Atkinson who, as well as being funny, seemed a lot more professional than Macca’s rendition of Hey Jude, where t seemed he got out of synch with a backing track. He also should realise that he can’t hit the high notes any more. (Sorry, once a music teacher…)

      1. Yes, Macca went a bit wrong there, didn’t he, Chris? But Rowan was a master stroke.

        My favourite bit was the NHS. I’ve never seen a ward like that in my life.

      2. That whole GOSH/NHS segment was so surreal, wasn’t it? And yet you can see why a Tory right-winger might whinge on about it being leftie propaganda when parts of the Coaliton Government are so busy trying to subvert the founding NHS principles.

  12. I deliberately avoided the parade because I know it takes forever. Good on your family for sticking it out! What I saw of the opening ceremonies, though, were amazing. We’ve downloaded the whole thing and will watch it in liesure over the next few days. Good luck from Canada!

  13. I liked the opening ceremony, overall. Love all the kids and kids singing.

    And love your alphabet twist in this post. Why can’t they go backwards on the alphabet every other Olympics. That’s not too much to ask is it??

  14. Over here in the states Bob Costas, our announcer in the broadcast booth, kept declaring that he could not believe how quickly the teams for each country were parading through the stadium. This illustrates that if you spout utter nonsense with complete authority, people might believe it. His network, NBC, probably wrote that in his script so that us dumb Yanks would agree and continue watching slack-jawed and stupefied to ensure we were staying tuned to the plethora of Olympic-themed ads. Ads for everything from insurance to computers to sandwiches sky-high in sodium guaranteeing an Olympic sized stroke or coronary if eaten regularly.

  15. I missed all the fun stuff at the beginning, but watched a good bit of the parade of nations. I always enjoy it, but it’s tough waiting for the United States – I went away and came back, watched them come in and went to bed – afraid I missed the host-nation team’s entrance. Announcer Bob Costas commented on how quickly the athletes were walking – imagine if they would have been slower!

  16. An interesting take on things, Kate. Why doesn’t someone just throw all the countries in a hat and extract them to march out at random? After all, on whose alphabet should it be based?

  17. I wondered if you would post about the ceremony. I’m ashamed to say that it was on for a bit until I became tired of it all…I had more fun reading tweets from locals (and not so locals) b*tchn about out NBC was ruining the whole thing by cutting tape and ‘blah blah blah’ commentary. It sounds like y’awl put on a nice show. ~

  18. I’m with you Kate or was with you on bailing early. You know, I hadn’t really understood the power of alphabets until Agrigirl was born.

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