Saturday, May 06, 2006

Konnotations of the letter K

During the 1930s Ezra Pound published a book called Guide to Kulchur, an eccentric spelling chosen to place a personal stamp on his views, separating them from conventional notions of the subject. Pound sometimes referred to his fellow poet e. e. cummings as "the Komrade," presumably to reference some pro-Soviet leanings. We write Komsomol, but anglicize Comintern. (Russian has a C, but with the value of S.)

In World War II propagandists spoke scornfully of Nazi “kultur,” ostensibly a sinister caricature of the real thing.

In the 1920s manufacturers of products discovered the value of the letter in achieving a brand name, which could be trademarked. Hence "Kool-Aid," first developed in Nebraska in 1927. (It was originally spelled "Kool-Ade.") In his 1958 novel “Lolita” Vladimir Nabokov satirized this trend by naming a motel Kumfy Kabins.

Ancient Greek has no letter C, and K (kappa) renders the hard c-sound. Some Hellenists insist that this trend be carried over into English, as Sophokles, Kore, Korinth and so forth. However, when the new spelling clashes with the established pronunciation, as it does with Thukidides, the word is usually sounded as formerly. One might call this general tendency kappacism, were it not for the fact that phoneticists and therapists already use that term to designate a defective pronunciation of the k sound.

In the 1970s, some opposed to the perceived imperialism of American foreign policy began to write "Amerika" or even "Amerikkka" (the latter referring to the Klu Klux Klan (an early instance of the expressive use of the letter k, by the way).

At about the same time, some black-power enthusiasts began to write "Afrika." Hence a curious paradox: while the k serves to delegitimize a nation (as noted above), it ennobles a continent.

The letter k is rare in Italian. By substituting k for c some writers in that tongue seek to convey a notion of menace (Amerikano, kompagno), to provide emphasis (kretino), or attach irony (kollega). A contemporary Roman gay poet and activist, Massimo Consoli, likes to write the word culo (ass), as “kulo.” The change in spelling seems to suggest that, in his view, this organ, normally regarded as vulnerable and passive, has power.

Be that as it may, recently, a somewhat similar trend has become evident with the letter z for plurals: thugz, happy dayz.


Anonymous Lolita said...

Thanks for your post. It's interesting to know about the konnotations of the letter K.

8:35 AM  

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