Alphabet – talking about writing (16th century)

story of English


One aspect of Preliminary Extension English is the ability to explore language, structure and etymology. Crystal’s paperback, published in 2012, has interesting insights into the origin and use of different words – I particularly enjoy his references to games and the playful possibilities of English. He includes this verse by Alaric Watts which first appeared in 1817:

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 ‘gainst 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!


Apparently, ‘j’ was seen as a variant of ‘i’ and so has no individual line. It reminds me of an exercise I attempted while studying creative writing that I have shared with keen students:

  • write each letter of the alphabet across several lines, leaving space between each
  • write a narrative using each letter as the beginning of a new word
  • keep the letters in order
  • no additional words may are allowed
  • punctuation may be used freely


I might even try this again soon …


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s