A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia, Page 3
Last revision: Feb. 27, 2019
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.
YAROOH, in the OED, is “ a humorous stylized representation of a cry of pain”
and is credited to the English writer Charles Hamilton, who, under the pen name Frank Richards, created the word for his popular Billy Bunter
comic strip in 1909. As a cry of anguish, as opposed to joy or excitement, Hamilton apparently came up with the spelling yarooh by reversing the letters of hooray.
Additional examples of words spelled backwards are here.
[Much of this section was contributed by 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].
V is the only letter that is never silent in English words. [Charles Turner]
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.
A nice article, “23 Notoriously Unrhymable Words (That Actually Have Rhymes),”
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
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,
Kidd adds: "Note here that cough, hough and hiccough
are somewhat onomatopoeic and that would gives yet another ou
sound as well."
Enough that I o'er life's dark lough my
thorough course pursue.
For a superb example of the many spelling-pronunciation mismatches in English, see
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].
The only other four-letter alphabetical sequence
found in English is -mnop-, which is found in
[Paul Wright, Charles Turner].
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
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
The Czech expression O PRSTU (about a finger) contains
letters in alphabetical sequence, as Q is not used in Czech
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
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
The most frequently looked up words on NYTimes.com from Jan. 1 to May 26, 2010, were
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:
BREATHED [creator of Bloom County and Outland],
CHOATE [Connecticut prep school or opposite of inchoate in Webster’s New World Law Dictionary],
CLEMENT [street in San Francisco],
CONCORD [New Hampshire capital],
ESPY [word player],
FOREST [town in Belgium],
FORGET [tennis player],
GUY [Flemish ruler],
ILL [river in Austria],
KIN [Manchu ancestors],
MARE [the dark "seas" on the moon],
MILLET [French painter],
MOLE [Sudanese people],
MOUSEHOLE [a village in Cornwall whose name is pronounced mau-zill],
MUSTER [tennis player],
NESTLE [beverage maker],
OUR [river in Belgium],
QUICHE [department in Guatemala],
RODEO [in Rodeo Drive],
SCONE [town in UK and Australia],
SEAT [make of Spanish car],
SLOUGH [city west of London (not far from Reading)],
TANG [Chinese dynasty],
VITAL [Palestinian author],
XI [river in China],
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,
[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
Other interesting words are
VEX/IRK (which are synonyms) [Pierre Abbat, Stuart Kidd].
In 2017 OED editors announced that the verb RUN, with 645 meanings, was now the word with
the most definitions. It replaced SET, which had over 430 senses, and an entry of approximately 60,000 words.
In W3, the longest entry is TAKE.
The longest entry in RHUD2 is RUN, with 178 definitions