I was still rather young, I remember, when I pointed to a percent sign and asked my mother, “What’s that called?”
“Kerof,” she said. Or maybe it was “kerrof.” Or “kerif”? I decided on “kerof.”
OK, sure, things have odd names. After all, & is called ampersand. (This turns out to be from and per se and, apparently, but how many people know that?) People can’t even agree on what # should be called. Why not kerof for %?
Look at it. Its line cuts through between the two circles like a kerf. It has an ornamental quality to it and is typographic, like a serif. It can seem as official as a sheriff or a seraph.
Not that I was fully aware of all these words at the time. I was, on the other hand, aware of the word carafe, so I knew when I saw carafe that it wasn’t a fancy spelling for kerof because I knew the stress was on the other syllable. Anyway, % looks more like two cups than one carafe.
I didn’t mind carafes. I took a dislike to the word decanter, though. Also to the word onus – actually I still don’t like onus, which seems like an average of anus and penis and would therefore be an apt name for the perineum (that’s the taint, for you plain folks). I decided that one of the most irritating sentences in English would be The onus is on the decanter.
And – here is where we come back to kerof – I discovered the word schwa (yes, I knew what it meant, and at first it seemed awfully self-important and prissy) and decided that Kerof Schwa would be a name for the sort of band that would sing annoying songs of all the things your teachers condescendingly tell you to do, and all those irritating phrases grown-ups say. Like “The onus is on the decanter.” With an instructional smile and over-gesturing finger. (If the phrase teachable moment had been around at the time, I would have determined it was the name of Kerof Schwa’s number one hit. Or maybe even a whole album.)
None of this told me, at the time, what the point of this oogly symbol was. All I knew was that my mother told me it was a kerof. And my mother was a teacher (one of the good ones, of course), so she knew.
Thing was, it wasn’t a percent sign actually that I was looking at. I realized a few years later that it had been a c/o on an envelope address.
My mom had said “Care of.”
Such a kerfuffle because I wasn’t kerof-ful…