It’s a question that has long puzzled scholars and laymen alike: Which letter of the alphabet is coolest, and which is the lamest? Today, here at Paste, we’re finally answering the question of questions.
Note: We’ll only be using the commonly accepted, 26-letter English alphabet. Ns with tildes and double Ls and accented vowels are all very cool, but not eligible for this particular ranking.
We start with the lamest, and work our way to the best:
B is an incredibly lame letter. Everything about it is soft and weak. B is a prominent feature in words like “baby” and “Bobby” and “bibby” and “bubby.” It’s not a prominent feature in the word “bebby,” because that word doesn’t exist, but I believe those other words show how weak B can be. Even the “B” swear words, like “bastard” or “bitch,” are lame in comparison to the harder-hitting swear words. And beyond an exception here or there, it’s all “belly” and “boo-boo” and “Bambi” and other sad words.
Best B-Word: Beer
One of the most common letters, and one of the most boring. M is mediocre and middling and meh. I can’t stand M. It’s just a sound you make when your lips are together. It should never have been elevated to letter status.
Best M-Word: Modicum
Just a very, very limited word. Overly dependent on U. Kinda pathetic.
Best Q-Word: Quixotic
The most bOring vowel. O is the safe person with a secure job you marry when you turn 35 and want to settle down. It’s no coincidence that when we want to express displeasure, we string together one B with a bunch of Os. Booooo.
Best O-Word: Ominous
It’s like water. Super useful, but so ubiquitous that you can’t really think of it as anything special. And just like water, it can turn horrible without warning; words like “peepee” are the tsunamis of the English language.
Best E-Word: Eclipse
Hard to pronounce, limited in use, and ultimately pretty apathetic. Words like lollygag and idle and lazy and aimless and desultory and casual and frivolous and sluggish and lethargic and lackadaisical and dull and dally and indolent and laggard and languid and lummox and loafer and lifeless and slack and sloth and slow and lag and somnolent and…you get it. They all feature an L, the slug of letters.
Best L-Word: Liquefy
This is the only letter that needs more than one syllable to say its name, which makes it kind of ostentatious. But for all that effort, what do we get? A loner letter that really doesn’t do anything special. Why did I just waste three syllables on you, W?!
Best W-Word: Whipoorwill
Very normal. Non-entity. Nothing. For naught.
Best N-Word: Noxious and nebbish
Not a bad vowel, not a great vowel. It’s a bit of a chameleon in terms of changing its pronunciation, but none of them sound that cool. Ah is what you say at the dentist, Eh is what Canadians say when they’re confused (which is always), aw is what you say when something is adorable but not thrilling. We need A, and we know it, but that doesn’t mean it presses our buttons.
Best A-Word: Alabaster
Y is a little cutesy. It’s always trying to be super positive in the beginning of words (yay, yippee, yowser, yasss), and at the end of words it’s immature and cloying. The word “yummy,” for example, is an all-time horrible addition to the language. Plus, we should ask ourselves whether we really need Y. Couldn’t the “yuh” sound just be replaced by J, and couldn’t we just use “ie” and “ee” at the end of words? Y is redundant, and the only reason I don’t rank it lower is because it can be a wild card vowel, which is pretty cool.
Best Y-Word: Yokel
The only real cool thing about P is that it combines with H to form the “f” sound. Other than that, it’s a very basic, no-frills letter, and I refuse to write another word about it.
Best P-Word: Pharisee
There are a lot of things to hate about “I.” For one, it’s the only vowel that you never see in double, except in the word “Hawaii.” For two, it’s highly functional but pretty boring. However, it has the most selfish word in the English language, “I,” and it doesn’t have to share with anyone else. Selfish, independent people are kinda cool.
Best I-Word: I
H really slips under the radar. Maybe it’s the soft sound, or the way it transforms when coupled with an S or a G or a C or a W, or maybe it’s been typecast as the sound of laughter. In any case, I like H, but I can’t justify putting it in the top half of these rankings.
Best H-Word: Hemorrhage
For me, G is summarized by the word “guttural.” It’s a sound that comes from the gut. In Freudian terms, it’s the id of the alphabet, a gasping gulping gah of a letter. Everything sounds rougher with G—even nice things like a grotto. G finds itself in its natural habitat with words like ghetto and gulag and garbage and garote and gag. It’s cool, but only in that very earthy, unfeeling way. Sometimes people try to dress it up with words like genre or gazelle, or to soften it with words like grass, but it always ends up looking like a bull in a china shop. Deep down, G can’t change is stripes. G makes me uncomfortable.
Best G-Word: Gazebo
R is the inventive word, the cutting-edge word, the future word. R is radical and rebellious and revolutionary. R is roguish and riotous and recalcitrant and reactionary and recherche, and R is a rowdy reformer and a renegade. R is real, and R is remorseless.
Best R-Word: Refulgent
Such an extravagant letter! Everything about it is terrific, tops, tremendous, and a triumph. It’s the Donald TRUMP of letters, but without all the bigotry. It’s just towering and terrific, and always a little bit tacky.
Best T-Word: Tabernacle
Definitely the coolest vowel. Pairs up in weird ways with all the other vowels, and also Q. For a rounded letter with a rounded sound, it can come off surprisingly cool in words like “ultra” and “umbrage.” It also pairs with “n” to reverse the meaning of most words, which is quite a power to have. This is the letter you sort of look at askance at first, thinking, “hmm…kinda dorky,” but eventually you realize it’s pretty sweet. It’s just unfortunate that the most famous example of it pairing with itself comes in the word “muumuu.”
Best U-Word: Ukulele
A very negative letter, D, but in kind of a cool grandfatherly way. It’s like the Bernie Sanders of letters, featuring such words as dearth and damn and dastardly and dreck and drivel and dirt and done and dope and drug and deform and devil and demagogue and dystopia and decay and drought and death. D tells it like it is, and that’s cool.
Best D-Word: Diabolical and duodenum
Multiple pronunciations, hangs out with most of the other letters, including Z (czar), and looks like it could eat the other letters, Pacman style. C is vastly underrated, probably because it’s a little co-dependent with K at the end of words.
Best C-Word: Concatenation
Other than a certain letter to come later, V is the sexiest letter. Any word with a “V” is automatically more alluring and mysterious. Vixen, vespers, violet, vermillion, vampire, vivid, velvet, vulva, vapor, vulpine, volcano, vicious, verve, vanity, vodka, vinyl, vino, venom, vroooooom. Man, that’s a red-hot letter.
Best V-Word: Vivacious
S is a traveler. It can go anywhere with any letter. Even crappy consonants like “B” can pair up with S in words like “Sbarro.” Q? Absolutely, don’t be a square. V? Svengali says yes. The only real hold-out is “D,” the most previously mentioned most independent word. Aside from that, S is the most popular, coolest kid in the school.
Best S-Word: Sarsaparilla
K is by far the most sinister letter. Put it at the end of a word that usually ends in “C,” and you’ve got terrifying constructions like “politik.” At the beginning of words, you have killers and kicks and kidnappers and kings and kabals and knockouts. The letter is pure kerosene, and it has that dangerous kool vibe that’s impossible to resist.
Best K-Word: Kabuki
The reason J is this high is because it has a lot of range in terms of pronunciation. You can have the hard J in jugular, the h-sounding Spanish J in Guadalajara or jai alai, and the hardish-softish French J, as in “au jus.” (Which tastes great with roast beef.) In some European countries, it’s pronounced like a “y,” as with the soccer team Juventus. You could argue that other letters like G, Y, H, and even X are merely J cover bands. For versatility, it’s hard to beat J.
Best J-Word: Jumanji
X is so illicit. X is sex, basically. X is a vixen. X is a place where people don’t give a shit, like Texas, or a place that cool criminals in westerns escape to, like Mexico. X is the letter you use to replace spiritual words in a way that annoys people. X is where treasure is buried. In games of tic-tac-toe, everybody roots for X. An extreme word like “extreme” becomes even more extreme when you cut off the “e” and make it X-treme. It is the nexus, the pox, and the hex. There is no exit, because X is the apex.
Best X-Word: Excess
It has the greatest, most versatile word in the English language.
Best F-Word: Fuck
Need to make your product sound awesome, but you’re stuck with an “s”? Just switch it up with a “z,” and you’ve got Rocketballz and Lazers and Canz and Truck Nutz and Blue Razzberry and Lugz and Bratz. Every word that ends with “z” is awesome, as we see from examples like jazz and pizzazz and whiz and topaz and waltz and spazz. It can simultaneously be aggressive (blitz), communal (kibbitz/kibbutz), and funny (ditz/schnozz). It is always exciting (abuzz). It knows when to be silent (chez). And at the start of words, it’s sharp and incisive: zing, zippy, zest, zeal, zero, zone, zombie. In words like Xanadu, even an ultra-cool letter like X tries to be Z.
Best Z-Word: Zydeco
We have launched the A-Z Series at Paste! By watching the Paste Studio sessions in the series, you could win a prize from the featured artist, including performance tickets, albums, signed photographs and much more! Check out the sessions on the Paste Cloud here and find the coordinating letter prop (example: A = find the aardvark) hidden in the studio. Click the A-Z badge to email us your guess for a chance to win! Winners will be chosen at random, each week, for each new letter.
The series will go on until the alphabet runs out!