It’s Just Greek to Me

When I read I pronounce things in my head. I don’t know the Greek alphabet. You might be as perplexed as God seemed when I made those two statements to her, but I assure you they actually are related.

Recently I’ve been reading things that toss in a Greek letter or two. Science articles and computer articles. They didn’t actually need Greek letters but they wanted a place holder for something, which really means they wanted to talk about something, but they didn’t want to have to give that something a real name. They pluck a glyph from the Greeks and call it a day.

Now I understand that it can be hard to come up with good names for things, and I can even kind of forgive the scientists who are using foreign letters because they want to stick their “thing” into equations, but hey, Einstein managed to stick to the Roman alphabet for his most famous equation, I think that much like Einstein every scientist can aspire to be.

Anyway, when I’m reading along and I come across a Greek letter, there’s this skip in my head. There’s a blank space where the name of the letter should go, because I don’t know what the name of the letter is. There’s still a thought connected to it, but it’s not a “verbal” thought. And for somebody that’s as hung up on words as I am, that’s a little unnerving. It’s sort of the mental equivalent of that stain on the movie screen, where somebody threw their drink, that makes you aware of the mechanics of projection whenever the action crosses over it. It takes me out of the moment.

The same thing happens when I’m reading a bad science fiction story and the author deliberately gives the aliens names that are unpronounceable. Perhaps the authors are thinking it’s a way to make their readers uncomfortable and they think that breaking people out of their comfort zones is what serious art is supposed to do. Well I’ve got news for them, it’s not uncomfortable, it’s just annoying and annoying is not art.

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