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John Larrysson's Column:X

【明報專訊】The letter X should not be taught with examples of words beginning with X. Properly there are no common English words beginning with the X sound. Before you say what about X-ray... let me explain.

The letter X is used to represent an unknown value, as in x-ray, x-axis, Malcolm X and xml. It is easier to think of this word-structure as X ray, not xray. These words actually are pronounced with a short e before the x-sound. There are also few common words that use X as an unknown, so it is not very useful as a teaching example.

One of the other common examples mis-taught to children is xylophone. The X does not represent the x-sound /ks/, instead it represents the z-sound /z/. So it would be confusing to use these fairly uncommon words as examples of the letter X.

Most common words with the letter X end with it, such as box, fix and sex. A few words in Old English had an X, but all of them ended with X and a vowel. From such words we get the Modern English: flax, fox, ox, six, and wax.

Middle English included some words from Latin and French. Latin brought English the ex- prefix and several words with an X in the middle of the word.

Few common English words use the letter X and they do not begin with it. Do not use x-ray and xylophone as examples of the use of the letter X. Instead use common X words, such as box, six and mix, that end with the word. The entry for X in Samuel Johnson's 1756 dictionary is: ''X is a letter, which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language.''

Audio and full text: link.mingpao.com/15488.htm

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