Paradise Lost, written by John Milton and published in 1667 concerns the fall of humanity; in Book One, the letter x does not appear as a first letter, but can be found in the text as a second letter in words such as exalted, excelling, excess, execute, exhalation, exile, expanded, expiate, experience, expos’d , extended, extinct, extort, and extreams.
We read about the fall of man and angels, temptations to taste forbidden fruits. The letter x represents the idea of the forbidden as in x-rated; it is a temptation into the modern world of x-rays and narcotics such as X for Ecstasy, the unknown quantity in mathematical equations, in genetics, the X chromosome, in English, the pre-penultimate letter of the alphabet, the 21st century X-box, the post baby boom Generation X.
The prefix ex implies vanishing, something outside of the norm, something unwanted, uncouth, the scrawled signature of the illiterate, an attempt at creating language out of shape rather than meaning.
X appears in the middle of words in Paradise Lost such as auxiliary and luxurious and at the end of words such as fix and Ox and Phalanx and Sex, but these are rare words in Paradise Lost. Other words such as fire and earth appear numerous times; the most frequent content word Heaven and its variants Heavens and Heav’n occur 43 times.
The words in the corpus for this project are words chosen for their reflection of the content and not their frequency per se. In the end in both pieces, we have letters inside words inside a letter, the missing x like darkness made visible as shape.