A F T,  B U M P E R,  C A N


Here’s One for U

One thing I find about the English language inimical
is its deficiency in all things diacritical.
Those scriptorial shoes and hats exude a soupçon of éclat.
Vive la différence: an insufferable person becomes a bête noire; a false front, a façade;
         a crowded household—ménage à trois.

The few diacriticized words that we have in English, we pinched from one or another tongue,
e.g. from German whence we boosted the umlauts in Fräulein and Götterdämmerung
(and in Hägen Dazs and Spın with umlautal Tap, which both wrap themselves in an umlautic halo).
From Spanish we snatched the tildes in piñata and jalapeño.

But most of our lexical finery we filched from French, like the circumflexes perched atop
         raison d'être and papier-mâché;
the acute accents a-leaping from relevé and crayfish étouffée;
the grave accents vis-à-vis bric-à-brac, porte-cochère,
crème de la crème and derrière;
and finally, the cedillas adangle from curaçao and aperçu.

But what does all this have to do with u?
Since English has no initial-u patootie terms to proffer
(unless you want to count “ultimatum,” but I have to reject, as excessively formal, that offer),
we must cross the sea for sacrumental solace.
Voilà! A Lithuanian beckons with his bum, which he calls “užpakalis.”
Note the new diacritic of which English, even o’er a stolen word,
has none: the caron (or, in Lithuanian, paukščiukas, which means “little bird”).

Next, we high-tail it to Hungary, not much of a schlep,
where the locals grace their backsides with an umlaut. They call it “ülep.”

But I leave the coup de grâce to Ilocano,
the third-most-spoken language in the Philippines, après Tagalog and Cebuano.
I have received conflicting information from two knowledgable reporters.
One contends that, in Ilocano, úbet refers to a lady’s private parts,
         while the other swears it means “hindquarters.” [1]
Unable to choose sides, I aver this précis:
If it works for “fanny,” it works for me. [2]
And úbet has that accented u, which I cannot more strongly stress
makes it a resounding, earth-shaking, heart-pounding, booty-quaking diacritical success. [3]