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Gee Whizz

Dear Readers,

This month’s newsletter is brought to you by the letter G. To start you off, here’s a typographic riddle. I saw this text lettered over a hearth in a New Hampshire inn. It took some time to dope it out. You try:

If the B mt put :
If the B . putting :
Don’t put : over a – der.
You’d be an * it.

There are invisible Gs lurking there. Answer below.

I’m a G-man. My birth name is Geoffrey—with a G, as I often need to note when transacting over the phone—named  after a 12th-century English ancestor, who may have spelt it Geoffry, Geffrey or Geffery.[1] The de Dutton family, as they were known at the time, resided in the town of Dutton, Cheshire, England. Weirdly, I grew up in Cheshire, Connecticut, and weird I remain.

So why, starting in grade school and for the next 15 years, did I sign my name as Jeff? That was my mother’s doing; she feared my classmates would make fun of me for the fancy spelling. From sheer force of habit, I didn’t ditch Jeff until I was in graduate school.

That was when I became a Geographer of sorts and began publishing papers under my rightful name. (My interest in geospatial analysis and graphic arts caused my artist friend and collaborator, the late, great Dennis Dreher, to dub me “Geography Duotone.”[2]) While no Genius, I can be ingenious, hopefully not ingenuous, and try to be generous in my dealings with people. Although introverted, I am occasionally garrulous. I genuflect to no God, but am grateful for the Gifts I’ve been given. See how g-geeky I am?

There are few other G’s in my family — just Great-Grandfather John George Dutton and uncle Gregory Pincus, whom everyone called Goody because his middle name was Goodwin — but that’s okay, because G is a funny letter that often trips up non-native English speakers.

Most consonants have but one pronunciation; a B is a B is a B. But in English, G can come out of a mouth hard, as in Gurgle, or soft, like Geoff, unpredictably. Hard G comes from the back of the mouth, soft G from the palate.*** Both are written the same. Now, Turkish also has two Gs; one is hard (as in gazos, which means fizzy water), while the other has no sound of its own.[3] (I know this because my wife is from Türkiye.) That G is written ğ, as in ağaç, the word for tree, pronounced ah-ach. It’s sort of a diphthong [4], serving to extend the vowel that precedes it. Turks call that letter Yumuşak Ge (pronounced “yumushak gay” — or soft G). Sadly for G-fans, it is never the first letter in a word. By the way, Turks write Geoff as Cef, because C is soft, pronounced “dz” or “dj”. [5]

Anyway, back to English. I’m only a single G, but famous double-Gs include Graham Greene (author), Greta Garbo (actress), George Gobel (comedian), the Great Gatsby (literary character) and the aforementioned Gregory Goodwin Pincus (biologist who invented the birth control pill). The most famous single-G, of course, is God. Had I been given my father’s middle name, Odard (another ancestor), that would be my initials. Thankfully, my middle name is Hugh (after a son of the Medieval Odard).

Lest you think I’m glorifying the letter, not all Gs are good Guys. Take Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, SC), Trump’s avid boot-licker, passed on by his past master John McCain’s when he died. After Trump’s conviction of sexual misconduct by a Manhattan jury, all he could say was “I think the New York legal system is off the rails when it comes to Donald Trump.” And, like the egregious Justice Clarence Thomas, Graham is said to have gotten tens of thousands of dollars from Harlan Crow. He’s a true GOP (another G, alas) party leader.

Speaking of godawful pols, don’t get me started on alleged Jan. 6 pipe bomber Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R, GA). As ghoulish as she is, I grumble about the ghastly President of the Turkish Republic even more. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan isn’t a G-name but it does have a silent one, plus a C that’s pronounced gee, enough to qualify. The evermore autocratic and corrupt Erdoğan has converted public schools to religious academies, stacked the judiciary, sent thousands of political opponents and journalists to prison, shut down news media deemed unpatriotic, and is facing re-election in a fateful run-off as I write this which, whatever the outcome, will be contested as stolen. [6] Win or lose, expect a godforsaken imbroglio.

So G is in my Genes (and my jeans, when I wear them), and so is writing (Grandpa C.J. Dutton wrote 17 books). G may be a reason that my novels take place in Greece. Fortunately for my readers, I refrained from giving all my characters G-names, although one calls himself George.

Fittingly, the publisher for my new novel [7], set in Greece, is Guernica Editions, which hails from Canada, not Greece, but you can’t win them all.

Here’s how the riddle up top reads:

If the grate be empty, put coal on
If the grate be full stop putting coal on
Don’t put coal on over a high fender
You’d be an an ass to risk it

(At one time, upper-case letters were referred to as “great.” Now we say “capital.”)

Grateful for your attention span, I remain,



1 I don’t know how many times people have pronounced my name as Gee-off and even Geef (rhymes with geek), but thankfully never Goof.

2 Duotones are halftone images printed in two colors. Once upon a time making them required mastering offset printing. Now anyone can make them in Photoshop. Dennis and I developed software along those lines.

3 English also has a silent G, aspirated as a diphthong, as in “through”. Another tough one for foreigners.

4 See how self-referential “diphthong” is?

5 The Turkish alphabet (“türk alfabesi”) has 29 Latin-script characters. Besides G and Ğ, it includes Ö and Ü along with O and U, and Ç (said “ch”) and Ş (said “sh”) as well as C and S, each with different pronunciations. Plus there are two version of I (I and İ), the former hard (“ee”) the latter soft (“ih”). It lacks Q, W, and X, whose sounds are covered by other letters.

6 I apologize for using only one G in that 51-word sentence. It won’t happen again.

7 It’s called Her Own Devices. I couldn’t think up any good titles starting with G.

From Perfidy Press Provocations, a quasi-monthly newsletter

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Published inEssayNewsletternonfiction

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