An Alternative Way to Teach the Alphabet — not for the fainthearted

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You know when you’re singing the “Alphabet Song” for the 10,000th time with your little one and you’re suddenly struck with a thought?  You know the one.  It’s when you think, “Gee.  This song is boring.  There has got to be a more exciting way to teach the alphabet.  What this Alphabet Song needs is some cannons, and battles and death.”  You have had that thought, haven’t you?

Good.  Because apparently Alaric Watts had the same thought back in 1817.  That’s why he wrote something more interesting to teach the alphabet — something that involves killing things and blowing things up.  I always knew people in history weren’t as straight-laced as we thought.

In case you want to frighten your toddler, here’s the poem:

An Austrian army, awfully arrayed,
Boldly by battery besieged Belgrade.
Cossack commanders cannonading come, 
Dealing destruction’s devastating doom.
Every endeavour engineers essay,
For fame, for fortune fighting – furious fray!
Generals ‘against generals grapple – gracious God!
How honours Heaven heroic hardihood!
Infuriate, indiscriminate in ill,
Kindred kill kinsmen, kinsmen kindred kill.
Labour low levels longest, loftiest lines;
Men march ‘mid mounds, ‘mid moles, ‘mid murderous mines;
Now noxious, noisy numbers nothing, naught
Of outward obstacles, opposing ought;
Poor patriots, partly purchased, partly pressed,
Quite quaking, quickly “Quarter! Quarter!” quest.
Reason returns, religious right redounds,
Suwarrow stops such sanguinary sounds.
Truce to thee, Turkey! Triumph to thy train,
Unwise, unjust, unmerciful Ukraine!
Vanish vain victory! vanish victory vain!
Why wish we warfare? Wherefore welcome were
Xerxes, Ximenes, Xanthus, Xavier?
Yield, yield, ye youths! ye yeoman, yield your yell!
Zeus’, Zarpater’s, Zoroaster’s zeal,
Attracting all, arms against acts appeal!

— Alaric Watts (first appeared in Trifler magazine in 1817)

A little back round information:  This was one of the most famous of the alphabet “games” and suited an adult reader, too.  It was reprinted thousands of times.  Did you notice that there is no line for “J”?  That’s because “J” was still considered a variant of “I” at this time and therefore not considered worthy of it’s own line.  Suwarrow was a Russian general, if you thought that was a typo (because autocorrect thinks a lot of these words are typos).  The general public was far more versed in history than the average American today, so they would have known all those names and the story behind them.  And did you notice that the vocabulary goes beyond the typical “dude”, “cool”, “LOL” and “Wha?”  Sigh…  We are losing our language…

Special thanks to May-May who dug this up in her language research.  She found it in The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal.

Have a great day!

Angela

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