The Limits of Language: Seuss Beyond Zebra


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The twenty-six letters of the known alphabet enables them both to talk about the known animals of the world, but it also limits them. By extending the alphabet on beyond zebra, the narrator is able to discuss a whole slew of fantastic Seussian animals that cannot be represented by the standard alphabet.

He says, “My alphabet starts with this letter called YUZZ. / It’s the letter I use to spell Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz.” Other letters and animals include a letter which looks like an O with a squiggly tail: “Like QUAN for Quandary, who lives on a shelf / In a hole in the ocean alone by himself / And he worries, each day, from the dawn’s early light / And he worries, just worries, far into the night. / He just stands there and worries. He simply can’t stop . . . / Is his top-side his bottom/ Or bottom-side top?”

Language gives us the tools to discuss the world around us, but it also limits us. The Inuit’s supposedly have hundreds of words for snow (although it is an urban legend). For us, snow is only one thing, but for the (imaginary) Eskimos snow is many different things. Our language gives us a word to talk about snow, but it makes all kinds of snow appear to be the same. After I heard this, I began to look at snow differently.

We have one word for love, but the Greeks had four. There is agape, “true love” rather than physical attraction. Eros, or sensual desire. Philia, or friendly love. Storge, or natural affection, like a parent for the child. The fact that we only have one word is often confusing. When your buddy says, “I love you, man,” what is he saying? When the guy in the bar whispers, “I love you,” what does he mean? Once we step beyond language, on beyond zebra, there are no limits to kinds of love and snow and fantastic beasts we can talk about.

The narrator says, “I led him around and I tried hard to show / There are things beyond Z that most people don’t know. / I took him past Zebra. As far as I could. / And I think, perhaps I did him some good.” Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell concludes, “This is really great stuff! / And I guess the old alphabet / ISN”T enough!”

[For more metafictional children’s classics, check out “A Nightmare Reading of Harold and the Purple Crayon,” “Grover and the Monster at the End of The Book (with a Surprise Ending),” “The Limits of Language: Seuss Beyond Zebra.” Also take a look at Metafiction for Children: A User’s Guide and More Metafiction for Children by Philip Nel. To read more about the relation between fiction and reality, get my book Narrative Madness at or on Amazon.]

Seuss, Dr. On Beyond Zebra. New York: Random House, 1955.

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  1. mike
    Posted July 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know the letters needed to name that letter.

  2. Jackson
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Wum-Um-Glikk-Nuh-Snee-Quan-Thnad-Zatz-Vroo. THAT is what it should ber called!

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