“AYTCH”

Perhaps the most important thing you need to know about the H-E-B grocery store is that you pronounce the hyphens.

Well, not exactly pronounce them. More like acknowledge them, and let them influence the way you say, “H-E-B.”

First, I want to go on record as saying that it’s a hassle to type out the store’s name that way. Holding down caps lock and then releasing it to press the hyphen key back and forth a couple times really slows the flow of thought. It’d be easier if the store’s name was, “H_E_B” with underscores, which are made with caps lock on and therefore require less effort when combined with the capital letters. Or I’d be ok with “h-e-b.” Would you be ok with “h-e-b”? I typed it twice with almost no effort, because we’re just a couple of concerned grocery shoppers trying to make Kerrville a better place to live, work and buy chorizo.

And let’s face it, this blog is about me and for me and I’m pretty much my own star reader, and if “H-E-B” becomes too burdensome to type, I’ll simply refer to my favorite place to buy groceries using the name of the store I shopped at during college in Raleigh, North Carolina: Piggly Wiggly. That name is infinitely easier to type, has great cadence and is quite fun to say (try to say it without smiling and then try it a second time without saying it slowly and elongating each syllable; I bet you can’t do it). “Piggly Wiggly… — pigg-uh-lee wigg-uh-lee” — sounds like a baby gurgling, right? It also contains four G’s, a much-neglected letter, except in several words I just used and which I’m sure you’re happy about. G is a fun letter.

But, all right, let’s let bygones be bygones.

And so that you know I’m willing to hassle with caps lock and hyphens for your benefit since you may not shop in Texas, the truly correct way to say the store name, with emphasis and broken into syllables, is “AYTCH-ee-BEE.” That, too, required alternating caps lock and hyphens. But I’m feeling generous.

The main thing here is that if there were no hyphens, half of us would pronounce the store name as, “HEBB,” right? Like, if you’re from Jersey, California or Tulsa, you’d say, “HEBB.” Like, I don’t say I’m going to make a cash withdrawal at my local “see-aytch-ay-ess-ee” bank, do I? (No, I do not.) H-E-B wouldn’t even come across as capitalized during our conversation! All in lowercase, “hebb” would receive no more respect than any other dadgum word in this post except for AYTCH. And that’s not really a word. Except among my cousins in eastern North Carolina, who’d say to me when I was a boy, “Howdy! C’mon over and scratch this AYTCH here on thuh taupe of muh back! Do that and I’ll give you a Co’-Cola. But before you come in here cut out those lights in the living room, because after you finish your Co’-Cola, I need you to carry me to the Pigg-uh-lee Wigg-uh-lee, and we ain’t coming back here till suppertime.”

But I would not pronounce the unhyphenated name as “hebb,” because I have known for a long time that H-E-B stands for Howard E. Butt.

And there are so few decent Howards in the world.

A quick survey: a New York City shock jock (__Stern); __ The Duck; a screaming politician (__Dean); a frumpy suburban dad in “Happy Days”… (__Cunningham); and the brilliant and rich but eccentric turn of the 20th century magnate (__Hughes). Then again, the sometimes-CEO of Starbucks (__Schultz) is one of them I’m proud to have my name associated with.

Also, I am Howard Frank Freeman IV. (As in the Latin “the fourth.” Not, as some Okies say in conversation, “Howard Frank Freeman the iv.”

My mother always wanted to name our first-born son, “Howard Frank Freeman V,” so that she could nickname him “Quint” — the Latin for “fifth.”

It was a good plan, granted it was the plan of someone other than the child’s parents, until Karen said, “Beverly, we’re naming him Carter.”

She replied, “You can call him whatever you want, but I’m calling him Quint.”

Mom could be like that.

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