This is an issue with stories about aids, stem-cell research, and other sad developments, so I'll end it on a lighter note with this news item: The Olasky family's new dog is an amazingly smart pooch. Although only a 6-month-old puppy, Pok*y (can you think of why I am using an ast*risk?) is so bright as to know which of our 26 units of writing (a, b, c, d, f, and so on) is most popular. On a Saturday morning in August I sat happily, typing a WORLD column. Quickly Pok*y sprang onto my laptop, and his paw nails caught under three typing spots: "d," "5," and a unit that for now must go without naming. My blood ran cold as all three sprang off. I was able to fix "d" and "5," but I could not put back that one which is most important in daily communication.
In case you're wondering by now why I wrote such a clunky lead paragraph, here's the solution: The letter Pokey inadvertently pulled off my computer keyboard and rendered unfixable was an "e." (I'm writing this now on a different computer.) Why couldn't Pokey have snagged on a "j," "q," "z," or "x"? I could go all day without absolutely, positively having to use one of those letters, unless my column was criticizing this past July's questionable zoo expenditures. But an "e"? Imelda Marcos could not live without shoes, and I've learned that I need a steady supply of the letter you don't miss until you have to do without.
I tried different ways of getting around my hapless, helpless, e-less state. Why not use asterisks instead of an "e"? Thus, when our reporter Lynn Vincent sent to me one of the hundreds of messages we at WORLD exchange with each other during the course of a day, she wrote, "Hi Marvin, how are we for space in the upcoming issue? I might need four pages for the story." I responded, "Lynn, my dog pulled off th* k*y on my comput*r that is most us*d; h*nc* ast*risks. As for th* n*xt issu*, r*m*mb*r it's conv*ntion tim*, so Bob's doing th* cov*r on th* D*mos. I'll us* Harrah in n*xt w**k's issu*, but pl*as* g*t it in so you can mov* on to th* n*w stori*s."
I tried other alternatives, such as substituting for "e" its next-door neighbor, "w," as in "ww wwnt ahwad with thw wwwk's issuw of WORLD," but that was confusing. I tried stoically going without any vowels at all: Old Testament Hebrew, after all, is vowel-less, and as the old song goes, "f t ws gd ngh fr Mss, t's gd ngh fr m." (Or, in my other way of writing, "If it was good wnough for Mosws, it's good wnough for mw.") But that also missed the mark.
Then it was time, using the editing commands on my computer, to copy an existing "e" and paste it in every time I needed one. This slow process helped me to appreciate Reformation and colonial printers who had to set type letter by letter. I figured out something faster: In Microsoft Word, type "q"s instead of "e"s and then do a global replace using a pasted-in "e." That worked, although on one note I had criticized a charlatan's actions and found myself attacking "euestionable euackery."
Still, there's no place like home and there's no letter like "e," so I was glad when my computer came back after only 10 days away. (My experience with Apple is that it takes a village to fix a computer.) But an awareness of the importance of "e" stayed with me. When my family and I, in our after-dinner Bible reading, looked at Paul's discussion (in chapter 12 of his first letter to the Corinthians) of how the church is one body with many parts, I thought of my prodigal "e." The apostle put it this way: "The *y* cannot say to th* hand, 'I don't n**d you!' And thw hwad cannot say to thw fwwt, 'I don't nwwd you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.... If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."
The humble "e" gets little respect but deserves much, and not only for its crucial role in e-commerce. Without the "e"s of the world, whether they labor in business and government or set up chairs for church services, life would be much clunkier. And our dog Pokey? He's heading to Obedience School.