Penick ponders predilection for P words

Posted10/26/2015 1:18 PM

When I hit the pavement with camera in hand every morning, I probably photograph more pretty pictures along the limestone path at May Watts Park than any other place except the Riverwalk.

Surrounded by nature as I plan my day, prospects of push-button remotes, cellphone numbers and a plethora of passwords sometimes put me in a pickle.


Perhaps longtime readers will recall my propensity to connect with P words. More than a few times since 1999 I've repeated that predicament in this space.

Politics. Public policy. Printed pages. Publishing. Parades. Parks. Plays. Performances. Parties.

Those passions are top priorities.

In other words, I'm preoccupied and curious about my participation in programs and projects that start with a letter of the alphabet that cannot be pronounced without putting my lips together.

And I'm wondering if P words play a part in other peoples' lives as much as mine.

Or does anybody else ever wonder how the alliteration of one letter drives many who publicly serve us with privileges in the way of perks, power and prestige when there are no term limits?

I checked my trusted old World Book Encyclopedia, still on the shelf. Somewhat predictably, more topics appear in the volume labeled "P" than all others except the two volumes marked "S."

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How could that be? Stephanie and Penick start with the two most popular letters. That fact was verified in an online search that notes the frequency of initial letters in the New Oxford Dictionary of English. After S and P, most words begin with C, D, M, and A, in that order, also supported by the width of the spines in the volumes of our World Book.

And I proceeded to think about how I, the oldest of three, was named. My parents' first choice was Linda if I were a girl and Steve if I were a boy. Steve was my dad's roommate at Purdue.

Much to my dad's disappointment when an 8 lb., 1 oz. baby girl was born, as the story goes, he suggested changing Linda to Stephanie, feminine for Steve. My mother agreed. And my dad has called me Steve ever since.

During my teen years, my dad always sat up waiting for me whenever I went out on Friday or Saturday night. In Muncie, Indiana, where I grew up, the curfew was 11 p.m.


My father, who served in the Navy Seabees during World War II, owned a construction company specializing in roofing. His nature always was to seek solutions, including challenging my two younger brothers and me to think independently during political discussions hashed over during supper.

On weekends when I arrived home without a minute to spare, my dad would be reading. I learned to cherish that time between just the two of us when he'd greet me with "Hi, Steve," and I'd join him. Then we'd stay up well past midnight discussing his latest read, usually about economics.

Without telling me how to think, he'd always enhance my understanding of my place in this world and the limits of the precious system in which we live.

One particular story that has stuck with me all these years was called "I, Pencil," an essay penned in 1958 by Leonard Read, an economist my dad had met at a seminar in New York. During one of our late-night chats, he explained that "I, Pencil" provides a simple lesson in economics, creativity and freedom, highlighting how free markets connect us, stimulate production and could bring about world peace.

Since that evening, I've read that essay many times, always mindful that not a single person in the world could create one pencil without the help of other people and products from all over the world. See for yourself. Sometime search online for "I, Pencil."

That worldly search may seem like a long way to go to come back to Naperville where the second syllable in the city's namesake begins with P.

And I seriously dread when people say it, but Illinois ends in S.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville. Her column appears monthly in Neighbor.

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