A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia, Page 3

Last revision: Feb. 28, 2016


MASSACRING is pronounced with a vowel that is not represented in its spelling. Some other such words are HAMTRAMCK, EDINBURGH, RHYTHM, NTH, CHASM, SARCASM, DIRNDL, WORLD, VRBAITE (a mineral named for Karel Vrba, although R can serve as a vowel in Czech), GRRL and the alternate spelling GRRRL, which are in the Macquarie Dictionary, contractions (such as DIDN'T), and many other words ending in -ASM, -ISM, and -ITHM. QNEXA is an experimental weight-loss drug. [Mark Brader, Dennis Miller, and others]

In 2003, in an open letter to Merriam-Webster, McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo complained that the MWCD11 entry McJob is "an inaccurate description of restaurant employment" and "a slap in the face to the 12 million men and women" who work in the restaurant industry. A McDonald's spokesman also mentioned that the word closely resembles McJobs, a trademark which refers to the company's training program for mentally and physically challenged people. In MWCD11 McJobs is dated 1986 and is defined as "a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement."

MHO is a unit of electrical conductance. Since conductance is the reciprocal of resistance, which is measured in ohms, MHO is OHM spelled backwards. The only other word in MWCD10 the origin of which is a backwards spelling is YOB, now more commonly spelled yobbo, which is the backwards spelling of boy. However, Chambers has two other electrical units formed by backwards spellings: DARAF and YRNEH. In mathematics ATLED is a rare term for the upside-down capital delta (although DEL and NABLA are more frequently used) and the reciprocal of slope is sometimes called EPOLS. Barry Harridge, consulting Chambers, says, "A close relative is ELLAGIC (pertaining to gall-nuts, applied to a particular acid). The coiners of the word started with the French word for gall (galle) and spelt it backwards. The laxative SERUTAN was named by spelling natures backwards. The recording SERUTAN YOB was a send-up of a popular Nat King Cole song Nature Boy. Actor Howard KEEL was born Harold Clifford LEEK. Count ALUCARD is a fictional character in the 1943 movie Son of Dracula. REMLAP, Alabama, is named for the Palmer family, and presumably REMLAP, Florida has a similar origin. YENSID, the sorcer in Fantasia, is Disney spelled backwards. HARPO, a production company, is Oprah spelled backwards. EREWHON is a 19th century novel by Samuel Butler which is approximately nowhere spelled backwards. The novel features backwards-named characters like Yram (Mary) and Senoj Nosnibor (Robinson Jones). SILOPANNA is a street in Annapolis, Maryland. RETSOF, New York, is named for William Foster. Additional examples are here. [Charles Turner]

MONDAY is the only day of the week that has an anagram, DYNAMO [Stuart Kidd]. The only months that have anagrams are MARCH, APRIL, and MAY. The anagrams are CHARM, RIPAL, and YAM [Ian Eiloart].

MUZZ would, according to Paul Dickson, be the last word in the Random House Dictionary if all the words in the dictionary were spelled backwards. However, it would seem that the last word in this dictionary, ZZZ, would remain last.

NIXON is the only last name of a U. S. President with an x. No President has a q or a z.

NTH is the only the word formed only with letters with positions in the alphabet that are even (14, 20, 8). This follows from the fact that all vowels are numbered oddly. [Yarlagadda police]

OF is apparently the only commonly used word in which F is pronounced like a V. The only other words with this property are HEREOF, THEREOF and WHEREOF [Mark D. Lew].

President Woodrow Wilson used the spelling OKEH rather than OK. He preferred this spelling, believing (incorrectly) that the origin of the word is a Choctaw word meaning "it is so."

The shortest -ology (study of) word found in dictionaries is OOLOGY (the study of eggs). However, X-OLOGY and XOLOGY appear on the Internet in several senses. The longest -ology word may be OPHTHALMOOTORHINOLARYNGOLOGY (the branch of medicine which formerly combined the treatment of eye, ear, nose, and throat). This word can be found in old medical textbooks and journals. [Charles Turner]

It is said that no word rhymes with ORANGE. There is a musical recording Rhymes With Orange by Mario Grigorov. There is a comic strip with the same name by Hillary Price. Witchiepoo sang There Ain't No Rhyme for Oranges on H. R. Pufnstuf. Glenn Anderson reports a Canadian band called Rhymes With Orange had two hit recordings, Marvin and Toy Trains.

However, BLORENGE (a 1,833 ft. hill near Abergavenny, Wales) is given in O. V. Michaelsen's book Words At Play. GORRINGE RIDGE is a seamount in the Atlantic Ocean named for Captain Henry Honychurch GORRINGE.

SPORANGE looks as if it rhymes, but the word, which is short for sporangium, is pronounced spuh-RANJ.

The examples above meet the requirement that the last two syllables rhyme with ORANGE, since the final sylllable is unstressed. If we require only that the final syllable of the word match, then there are many other candidates for words which rhyme with orange. For example, Ng Boon Leong says that as English is pronounced in Singapore, RANGE, STONEHENGE, and DERANGE all rhyme with ORANGE. Bruce Salvisberg says the French given name SOLANGE rhymes with orange. Bruce Todd points out that the final syllable of CITRANGE is pronounced identically with the final syllable of ORANGE, and W3 shows an alternate pronunciation of SYRINGE which is also identical in the last syllable. Ian Eiloart provides BINGE, CRINGE, HINGE, M*NGE, IMPINGE, SINGE, TINGE, and WHINGE, and he provides this little poem:

Ted Hughes would constantly whinge, "There's no rhyme I think for orange" But wait, we misheard, For these were his words, "There's no wine to drink for a binge"
Some other words difficult to rhyme are MONTH, SILVER, WASP, and PURPLE. The rec.puzzles archive has (n + 1)th to rhyme with MONTH, and words such as SEVENTH, ELEVENTH, and THOUSANDTH could be considered rhymes. Ted Clarke provides CHILVER (British dialect for "ewe lamb" or "ewe mutton" and a surname) and GRUNTH (an alternate spelling of GRANTH) which rhymes with MONTH in one of its pronunciations. HIRPLE is a British word meaning "walk lamely" or "hobble." CURPLE is a Scottish term in W3 [Craig Lancaster]. HERPAL means "related to herpes" and is a Hindu name. WILVER is a given name; the best-known Wilver is baseball player Wilver "Willie" Stargell.

It is claimed that -OUGH can be pronounced 9 different ways in the following sentence:
A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.
However, David Olsen says that slough does not provide a unique pronunciation for -ough, but that HOUGH (pronounced hock) is a Scottish word, meaning the ankle joint of a horse, cow, or foul, or to hamstring, or it is an obsolete British word meaning to clear the throat. Olsen says that in order for the sentence to have 9 different ways of pronouncing -ough, it could be rewritten as:
A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed, houghed, and hiccoughed.
[Jim Spice writes that HOUGH (pronounced HOCK) is "alive and well in northeastern Wisconsin, even in its original meaning. To HOUGH is to snort mucus from your throat into your mouth in preparation for spitting." R. E. Davies writes, "This word also well known in Ontario, Canada, where the phrase 'hock a loogie' is alive and well. Most Ontarians would understand this phrase. As to the word 'loogie,' it also sounds like a good Scottish word, which is believed to mean 'that which one houghs.' I've never actually seen this particular phrase written down, but I'm sure school children in Ontario would not be surprised to find out that 'hock a loogie' should actually be spelled 'hough a loughie.'"]

Ted Clarke says there are 10 pronunciations for OUGH. He adds LOUGH, the Irish form of loch. But James A. Landau reports that the YOUGHIOGHENY River in Pennsylvania (a tributary of the Monongahela) is pronounced "YUCK-ih-gain-ee."

Stuart Kidd provides the following, with 10 pronunciations:

Though the cough, hough and hiccough so unsought would plough me through,
Enough that I o'er life's dark lough my thorough course pursue.
Kidd adds: "Note here that cough, hough and hiccough are somewhat onomatopoeic and that would gives yet another ou sound as well."

For a superb example of the many spelling-pronunciation mismatches in English, see “The Chaos”.

The alphabetical sequence -rstu- is contained in OVERSTUFF, OVERSTUDIOUS, OVERSTUDY, OVERSTUDIED, OVERSTUDIES, OVERSTUNK, UNDERSTUFF, UNDERSTUMBLE, SUPERSTUD, OVERSTUMBLE, SUPERSTUFF, UNDERSTUDY, and BIERSTUBE (a type of German tavern) [Paul Wright]. In additon, the OED2 has INTERSTURB, which is shown as an erroneous form of interturb [Philip C. Bennett].


Allowing proper nouns, CHELMNO, a town in Poland, has -lmno- [Charles Turner].

If we allow spaces and hyphens there are also FILM NOIR and STAR-STUDDED.

If we allow the alphabet to carry on round in a continuous loop, there is -yzab- in ANALYZABLE [Paul Wright].

Words consisting only of consecutive letters, none allowed to repeat, are RUST, STRUV, FEIGH (to clean, OED), HEFIG (heavy, Chambers), and FIGHED (signed, OED). Words consisting only of consecutive letters, allowing repeating letters, are HIJIKI (a type of seaweed), POMPON, POMPOON (variant of POMPOM, OED) BACABA, DEEDEED (damned), FEIGHED (cleaned, OED), OMNOPON (an opiate, OED), TUSSURS (oriental silk moths), and TUTTUTS. If hyphens are allowed, HIGH-FED and FACE-BEDDED [Stuart Kidd, Rudy Wang].

According to Stuart Kidd, AFGHANISTAN, KIRGHISTAN, and TUVALU are the only countries with three consecutive letters in their names. However, David Kendall points out that the official spelling of the second country is KYRGYZSTAN.

The Czech expression O PRSTU (about a finger) contains letters in alphabetical sequence, as Q is not used in Czech [Miroslav Sedivy].

The Danish word FORSTUVNING (distortion) contains the sequence -rstuv- [Philip Bennett].

OXYOPIA (unusual acuteness of vision), OOGONIA, and OCEANIA cram five syllables into only seven letters [Stuart Kidd]. OIDIA (plural of OIDIUM) has four syllables with only five letters [Craig Rowland]. Allowing scientific names in biology, IOUEA (a genus of Cretaceous fossil sponges) has four syllables in five letters [Susan Thorpe in Word Ways). Barry Harridge points out that IFF (described elsewhere on this page) yields five syllables with only three letters, in one of its pronunciations. AOTEAROA, the Maori name for New Zealand (meaning The Land of the Long White Cloud), has six syllables in its eight letters [Stuart Kidd].

PARADIGM was the word most frequently looked up in 1998 in the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary. Some other words frequently looked up, besides obscene words, were UBIQUITOUS, ESOTERIC, OXYMORON, SERENDIPITY, HUBRIS, OBSEQUIOUS, and ECLECTIC. At the end of 2000, a frequently looked up word was CHAD. (Its modern meaning is in the MWCD10, but not the OED2.)

In 2001, the ten most frequently looked up words in the Cambridge Dictionaries Online (out of almost 15 million searches) were SERENDIPITY, IDIOM, PARADIGM, UBIQUITOUS, DICTIONARY, PRAGMATIC, EFFECT, GRY, JINGOISM, and FOIBLE. In the first half of 2002, SERENDIPITY remained in first place, although in October 2002 the most frequently looked up word was SNIPER.

The most frequently looked up words at the Merriam-Webster web site in 2004 were BLOG, INCUMBENT, ELECTORAL, INSURGENT, HURRICANE, CICADA, PELOTON, PARTISAN, SOVEREIGNTY, and DEFENESTRATION.

The most frequently looked up words at the Merriam-Webster web site in 2005 were INTEGRITY, REFUGEE, CONTEMPT, FILIBUSTER, INSIPID, TSUNAMI, PANDEMIC, CONCLAVE, LEVEE, and INEPT.

In 2015 Merriam-Webster reported that the all-time most looked up word on its site was PRAGMATIC.

The most frequently looked up article in the World Book Encyclopedia is said to be SNAKE.

The most frequently looked up words on NYTimes.com from Jan. 1 to May 26, 2009, were SUI GENERIS, SOLIPSISTIC, LOUCHE, LACONIC, SATURNINE, ANTEDILUVIAN, EPISTEMOLOGICAL, SHIBBOLETHS, PENURY, and SUMPTUARY.

The most frequently looked up words on NYTimes.com from Jan. 1 to May 26, 2010, were INCHOATE, PROFLIGACY, SUI GENERIS, AUSTERITY, PROFLIGATE, BALDENFREUDE, OPPROBRIUM, APOSTATES, SOLIPSISTIC, and OBDURACY. [Charles Turner]

PERIWINKLE could be the longest strict homonym (two words with the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings and origins) [Charles Turner].

PIERRE, the capital of South Dakota, is the only state capital name that shares no letters with the name of its state [Mark D. Lew].

PIKES PEAK is spelled without an apostrophe by law. The Colorado legislature established the correct spelling in 1978. There are other cases in which spelling or pronunciation is established by law. The voters of MULLENS, West Virginia, voted to retain the spelling, rather than switch to "Mullins," which is how the person for whom the town is named spelled his name. According to Willis Johnson, the Louisiana legislature enacted a law specifying that "crawfish" should not be spelled with a "y." Jim Lehmann reports that in JOLIET, Illinois, it is illegal to pronounce the name of the town in any way other than with a long "o" on the first syllable. (According to MWCD10, outsiders often pronounce the first syllable with a broad "a." The primary stress is on the final syllable.) In 1982 the city council of BOCA RATON passed a resolution giving the correct pronunciation of the name of the city. (The ending rhymes with phone.)

A 1961 UPI newspaper article reported, “Residents of Guttenberg, named for Johann Gutenberg, inventor of movable type, have voted to uphold a typographical error. Voters Tuesday defeated, 208-166, a move to delete the extra ‘T’ inserted accidentally by a draftsman in the original town plan.”

PINK has a separate entry for each of eight completely different etymologies in Chambers. (Briefly they are a ship, to serrate, light red, yellow pigment, to wink, small, a minnow, to knock in a carís engine.)

POLISH is pronounced two ways, depending on whether or not the first letter is capitalized. Some other such words: Some more: AMEND [Cartoonist], ARES, ASKEW, AUGUST, BAD, BEGIN, BREATHED [creator of Bloom County and Outland], BUND, CHOATE [Connecticut prep school or opposite of inchoate in Webster’s New World Law Dictionary], CLEMENT [street in San Francisco], COLON, CONCORD [New Hampshire capital], DEGAS, ESPY [word player], EWE, FOREST [town in Belgium], FORGET [tennis player], GUY [Flemish ruler], HERB, ILL [river in Austria], JOB, JUBILATE, JUNKER, KIN [Manchu ancestors], LEVY, LIMA, MALE, MANES, MARE [the dark "seas" on the moon], MILLET [French painter], MOBILE, MOLE [Sudanese people], MOUSEHOLE [a village in Cornwall whose name is pronounced mau-zill], MUSTER [tennis player], NATAL, NESTLE [beverage maker], NICE, OUR [river in Belgium], PLACER, QUICHE [department in Guatemala], RAINIER, RAVEL, READING, RODEO [in Rodeo Drive], SAID, SCONE [town in UK and Australia], SEAT [make of Spanish car], SLOUGH [city west of London (not far from Reading)], TANG [Chinese dynasty], TANGIER, VITAL [Palestinian author], XI [river in China], WORMS, ZEMI [Naga people]. MAGDALEN uncapitalized means "a repentant prostitute"; capitalized, it is a college in Oxford and sounds like "maudlin." EMBARRASS capitalized is a river in Eastern Illinois and a city and a river in Minnesota pronounced (aum-bro); it is also spelled EMBARRAS [Ted Clarke, Bruce D. Wilner, Dan Tilque, John Ramsden, David Giltinan, Charles Turner, Noam Bergman, Chris Cole, Richard Lederer, Rudy Wang].

PSI and SAI make up a pair of homophones, both of which refer to pitchfork-shaped objects. The first is Greek and refers to a letter; the second is Japanese and refers to a ninja weapon. (In Greek, PSI is pronounced "psee," but in English-language dictionaries it is pronounced "sai.")

Q is the only letter that does not occur in the names of the states of the U. S.

RAISE/RAZE are homophones with approximately opposite meanings. Others are RECKLESS/WRECKLESS, AURAL/ORAL, PETALLESS/PETALOUS, QUEEN/QUEAN [Bruce D. Wilner].

RESIGN has opposite meanings but is pronounced differently in each case ("to quit" and "to sign again") [Robert S. Seidenwurm].

In 1934 Variety printed perhaps its most famous headline of all time, STICKS NIX HICK PIX, meaning "rural communities reject movies about rural personae." In 1984 David Burdett wrote a book whose title was the variation HIX NIX STIX PIX. On May 31, 2000, the New York Daily News wrote on page 1 HICKS NIX KNICKS TIX with the sub-headline "Pacers freeze New York fans out of courtside seats at Indy." The headline on page 5 read HICKS' KNICKS TIX TRICK [James A. Landau, Mark Brader].

Stephen Morris writes that French for walkie-talkie is talkie-walkie.

The reason we say "razzle-dazzle" rather than "dazzle-razzle" is because "The word beginning with the less obstruent consonant always comes before the word beginning with the more obstruent consonant." This is according to Steven Pinker in The Language of Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language.

The word ROBOTICS was coined by Isaac Asimov in his 1941 story “Liar!” He later stated that he believed at the time that he was using an existing word.

Rot13 is a simple way to encrypt texts, by rotating the alphabet 13 letters. A becomes N, B becomes O, etc. Rot13 is mainly used to hide text from casual reading. The longest words which become other words by rot13 are NOWHERE/ABJURER and CHECHEN/PURPURA. Other interesting words are TANG/GNAT and VEX/IRK (which are synonyms) [Pierre Abbat, Stuart Kidd].

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