Disowning Our Names: a short history of two letters

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You’re probably familiar with the frequency illusion.

It goes something like this: you learn a new word, or learn about a company, or meet a new person (etc.), and suddenly they seem to appear everywhere.

When I decided to pair the initials for Sylas and Kaitlyn together in my logo, a strange thing happened: I started to see this letter-pairing everywhere.

  1. One of my agribusiness professors referred to a tomato producer named SK Foods.


2. Through Twitter I came across a Michigan clothing company called Stormy Kromer, which often brands as “SK”.


3. Brain Pickings featured a poet named Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay poet

4. An SUV in front of me had an “SK” bumper sticker for Siesta Key, Florida.

siesta key, florida

Not only was I repeating these letters now, but the world was repeating them back to me.

I was more aware of words with that pairing:

skill, sketch, ska

skin, skim, sky

Ask, bask, mask

Brisk, risk, whisk

Husk, musk, tusk

And even learned a few new words:

Skiagram: n. – A photographic image produced on a radiosensitive surface by radiation other than visible light

Skirrets: n. – An Asiatic herb cultivated in Europe for its sweet edible tuberous root

Ernest Hemingway quote

I started recalling related memories, like of watching Red Skelton on Saturday nights with my older brother, together sipping sugary black tea.

The weeks that followed, in fact, were like a memory in motion. I met myself over and over through the course of two letters. Look at something long enough, and it takes on a foreign quality.

There’s a phrase for that, too. “Semantic saturation” is a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who then perceives the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.

Its Wiki page collects a number of cultural references:

semantic saturation

And the scientific explanation for it can be traced to even more terminology: reactive inhibition.

reactive inhibition

The more attention you give to something—a word, a thought, another human being—the less you really know.

You latch on until it’s quiet and exposed, half-there. Half-known.

One day you find yourself sitting there in that pond where everything blends, where your name becomes my name, your syllables my sounds. I have these names, but they are not mine. I have letters and words, but I am not the first to speak or write them out.

There’s a beauty in giving that up. I own nothing; I know nothing.

Maybe there’s a time for both claiming and not claiming? For saying once or saying many times over, until the thing on your mind is no longer yours. It depends, I think, on whether you’re trying to see the world for its diversity or its underlying sameness.

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