A is for ‘Watermelon’
n English, A is almost always for “apple”. It’s the model, the memory aid we use for that letter to teach it to our children. But F, on the other hand, can be for “flower”, “fish”, or “frog”, among others. “A” is also the first letter of the Cyrillic alphabet, and in Russian, A is for “watermelon” (арбуз — pronounced “ar-boos”). The Russian word for “apple” (яблоко — “ya-bla-kuh”) is also frequently on the list, except it’s for the last letter of the alphabet: “Я” In fact, when Russians teach their alphabet, food features big: Х  is generally for “bread” (хлеб), Г  is usually for “mushroom” (гриб), and sometimes T is for “cake” (торт). Chinese elementary schools, besides teaching basic Chinese characters, also teach the Roman alphabet since it’s used for typing and for checking up words phonetically in a dictionary. On many of their classroom wall charts, the letter A is represented by a picture of a child at a dentist’s office, saying “ah”. Sometimes a popular model for a letter will change: In French, A was usually for “donkey” (âne) in children’s primers of the early and mid 20th century. Nowadays, though, A is more likely for “airplane” (avion). In some cases, there isn’t a lot of choice. In English, X pretty much has to be for “x-ray” or “xylophone” — there’s not much else. In Spanish, the letter Ñ  (“en-yeh”, pronounced like the “ny” in “canyon”) doesn’t start many words, so they often just leave it off the children’s books and posters. If they do include it, Ñ usually has to resort to being for “ñu”, meaning “gnu”, the African antelope better known as the wildebeest. (I’ve also seen Ñ represented by “ñame”, meaning “yam.”) n the Thai alphabet, each letter is named after an object or person, so the models used to teach Thai children the alphabet are always the same. Interestingly, the first two letters are, in order: meaning “chicken” (ไก่) and meaning “eggs” (ไข). So this sort of settles which came first, the chicken or the egg, at least in Thai. (Though of course, “chicken” also comes before “egg” in English dictionaries.) The rest of the Thai letters run the gamut, with some named for animals or  common items:  is “water buffalo” (ควาย)  is “bell” (ระฆัง)  is “turtle” (เต่า)  is “sailboat” (สำเภา) But others have names very specific to Thai culture:  is “child monk” (เณร)  is “yaksa” (ยักษ์), a mythical giant which appears in various Asian cultures.  is “Ment-ho” (มณโฑ), a queen in Thailand’s national epic, the Ramakian, based on India’s Ramayana.
I
I
This chart, printed onto a t-shirt, shows the letters of the Thai alphabet along with pictures of what their names mean. (The yaksa is second from the left in the second-to-last row, and Ment-ho is in the first box of the third row.)
A is for ‘Watermelon’
n English, A is almost always for “apple”. It’s the model, the memory aid we use for that letter to teach it to our children. But F, on the other hand, can be for “flower”, “fish”, or “frog”, among others. “A” is also the first letter of the Cyrillic alphabet, and in Russian, A is for “watermelon” (арбуз — pronounced “ar- boos”). The Russian word for “apple” (яблоко — “ya-bla- kuh”) is also frequently on the list, except it’s for the last letter of the alphabet: “Я” In fact, when Russians teach their alphabet, food features big: Х  is generally for “bread” (хлеб), Г  is usually for “mushroom” (гриб), and sometimes T is for “cake” (торт). Chinese elementary schools, besides teaching basic Chinese characters, also teach the Roman alphabet since it’s used for typing and for checking up words phonetically in a dictionary. On many of their classroom wall charts, the letter A is represented by a picture of a child at a dentist’s office, saying “ah”. Sometimes a popular model for a letter will change: In French, A was usually for “donkey” (âne) in children’s primers of the early and mid 20th century. Nowadays, though, A is more likely for “airplane” (avion). In some cases, there isn’t a lot of choice. In English, X pretty much has to be for “x-ray” or “xylophone” — there’s not much else. In Spanish, the letter Ñ  (“en-yeh”, pronounced like the “ny” in “canyon”) doesn’t start many words, so they often just leave it off the children’s books and posters. If they do include it, Ñ usually has to resort to being for “ñu”, meaning “gnu”, the African antelope better known as the wildebeest. (I’ve also seen Ñ represented by “ñame”, meaning “yam.”) n the Thai alphabet, each letter is named after an object or person, so the models used to teach Thai children the alphabet are always the same. Interestingly, the first two letters are, in order: meaning “chicken” (ไก่) and meaning “eggs” (ไข). So this sort of settles which came first, the chicken or the egg, at least in Thai. (Though of course, “chicken” also comes before “egg” in English dictionaries.) The rest of the Thai letters run  the gamut, with some named  for animals or common items:  is “water buffalo” (ควาย)  is “bell” (ระฆัง)  is “turtle” (เต่า)  is “sailboat” (สำเภา) But others have names very specific to Thai culture:  is “child monk” (เณร)  is “yaksa” (ยักษ์), a mythical giant which appears in various Asian cultures.  is “Ment-ho” (มณโฑ), a queen in Thailand’s national epic, the Ramakian, based on India’s Ramayana.
I
I
This chart, printed onto a t-shirt, shows the letters of the Thai alphabet along with pictures of what their names mean. (The yaksa is second from the left in the second- to-last row, and Ment-ho is in the first box of the third row.)