A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia, Page 4
Last revision: April 13, 2017.
No President of the United States has had a last name starting with S, even though
it is the most common last name initial in the United States.
SAINT-LOUIS-DU-HA! HA! is the only city name in the world that features two exclamation points. The municipality is in Quebec.
More information is here [Charles Turner].
SALES is the answer to the first clue (“What bargain hunters enjoy.”) in what is regarded
as the world’s first crossword puzzle in the Dec. 21, 1913, edition of the New York World, which called
the game a “word-cross puzzle.” [Charles Turner]
SCHWARMEREI was misspelled by the runner-up in the National Spelling Bee in both 2004 and 2012. It is a word of German
origin meaning “excessive sentimentality.” A list of 13 words that knocked out spelling bee finalists is
SCRAUNCHED (10 letters) and SCROONCHED may be the longest monosyllabic words in W3.
The OED2 has these ten-letter words:
The American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed., 2000) has
SCROOTCHED as an alternative spelling for scrooched [Philip Bennett, Stuart Kidd].
Some nine-letter monosyllabic words are
CRAUNCHED, SCHLEPPED, SCHLUMPED, SCHMEERED, SCHMOOZED, SCRAICHED,
SCRAIGHED, SCRATCHED, SCREECHED, SCROOCHED, SCROUNGED, SCRUNCHED,
SKREECHED, SKREIGHED, SPLOTCHED, SQUELCHED, SQUINCHED, SQUOOSHED,
STAUNCHED, STRAIGHTS, STRENGTHS, STRETCHED, SCRANCHED, SCRAUGHED,
SCRINCHED, SCRITCHED, SPLATCHED, SQUATCHED, SQUENCHED, FRAUNCHED, STRAYNGTH,
GRAUNCHED, THRUTCHED, SCHWARMED, and
[Philip Bennett, Stuart Kidd].
In addition, MWCD10 shows a one-syllable pronunciation of SQUIRREL, so presumably
the 11-letter SQUIRRELLED could be pronounced as one syllable.
Craig Rowland writes,
"All dictionaries designate this word to be of two syllables, but
frankly I don't know any Canadian who says it as any way but one."
SET is the word with the longest entry in the OED2.
In the OED2, the verb set has over 430 senses consisting
of approximately 60,000 words.
According to Wikipedia, “As entries began to be revised for the OED3 in sequence starting from M,
the longest entry became MAKE in 2000, then PUT in 2007. SET
is expected to regain its place as the longest entry once it too is revised.”
In W3, the longest entry is TAKE.
The longest entry in RHUD2 is RUN, with 178 definitions
SHANGHAI could be the only verb that is derived from the name of
a city. Only one country is a verb: JAPAN (to put a hard, brilliant polish on).
Four countries are common nouns: TURKEY, CHINA, GUINEA, and CHAD.
Several countries are common first names: INDIA, ISRAEL, JORDAN, CHAD, KENYA, and GEORGIA.
Two states are common first names: VIRGINIA and GEORGIA. WASHINGTON is a less common
first name, as in Washington Irving.
[James A. Landau]
Dan Tilque has compiled a list of what he calls "shape words,"
terms in English that are composed of a
single letter and a word (or two), where the letter describes
the shape of the object. He attempts to show one word for each
letter of the alphabet, but several letters are missing. His list:
f-hole, F clamp,
K truss, K-turn,
T-shirt, T-intersection, T-bone, T-square,
Z bar. [Mark Brader and Phil Jacknis added to Dan's list.]
SUBBOOKKEEPER is the only word found in an English language dictionary with four pairs of double
letters in a row. This word is in W2, but is not in W3 or OED2.
WOOLLOOMMOOLOO, according to the Australian Encyclopedia
and various editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica,
is the original spelling of Woolloomooloo, a suburb and bay in Sydney, Australia [Susan Thorpe]
Bob Erndt suggests there ought to be someone who has a
raccoon that has a nook that needs cleaning, namely a
RACCOONNOOKKEEPER. And from Bo Parker: At a dam, there is a
flooddoor. The controls for the flooddoor are in the flooddoorroom.
Let's say the the boss at the dam calls a meeting in the
flooddoorroom. The people who go to this meeting are
FLOODDOORROOMMEETINGGOERS. And James Lehmann suggests: In the
flooddoorroom, there is a book, which explains how to use the
controls for the flooddoor, a FLOODDOORROOMBOOK, in which all
four double-O's are pronounced differently.
According to Charles Hess,
Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned
FLOODDOORROOMMOONLIGHTERS, RACCOONNOOKKEEPER, and FLOODDOORROOMMASTER.
Paul Wright writes: “If there are such people as balloonneers there could be a room for them, namely a BALLOONNEERROOM with 6 consecutive double-letters and if there was a meeting in said room it would be a BALLOONNEERROOMMEETING with 8 consecutive double letters.
Also if subbookkeepers have a room and a meeting it would be a SUBBOOKKEEPERROOMMEETING with two separate sets of four consecutive double letters.”
Dwight Ripley notes that in Finnish such words are almost commonplace. As examples, he cites
LIIKKEESSÄ (in motion; in a shop), and
Paul Wright adds a Finnish word with 5 consecutive double letters:
The Dutch word VOORRAADDOOSSPULLEN (things you keep in a supply box) has seven double
letters, of which six are consecutive [Stuart Kidd].
HUBBUBBUBBOO (a confused crying or yelling, OED) is the shortest
word with four pairs sets of double letters, although the OED also shows
PEEKEENEENEE as an English phonetic spelling in a citation for the word PICCANINNY
[Stuart Kidd, Philip Bennett].
The shortest words with three double letters are
KEELLESS, ASSESSEE, ALLOTTEE, APPELLEE,
CALLALLOO, FEELLESS, HEELLESS, KEENNESS, SOONNESS, TOOLLESS, UBBUBBOO and FEEOFFEE.
EELLESS has been suggested but does not seem to be in any dictionary [Pierre Abbat, Stuart Kidd, Philip Bennett].
According to Philip Bennett, the only words in the OED2 with three sets of consecutive double letters are
BOOK-KEEPER, DEER-REEVE, FEED-DOOR, GOOD-DEED, HEEL-LOOP, HOOF-FOOTED, HOOT-TOOT, KEEK-KEEK, SOONNEE, TOOT-TOOT, VENEER-ROOM,
COOEE is the shortest word with two double letters [Pierre
AA (a type of lava) and OO (a Hawaiian bird or a variant of OOH) are
the shortest words with one double letter [Pierre Abbat, Mark Brader].
GOOD DEED DOTTY, the name of an old comic strip, has four double letters in a
row [Peter Gordon].
SYZYGY and ZYZZYVA, when written in cursive, have five
letters in a row which descend below the line. SYZYGY is also the
shortest word with three Y's.
TARAMASALATA (a type of Greek salad) and GALATASARAY
(name of a Turkish football club) both have an A for every other
letter. OCONOMOWOC (a town in Wisconsin) has an O for every
other letter. The term International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection contains the letter string
"IONONNONIONI," which consists of 12 consecutive letters with only three distinct.
Joseph Krol points out that if the spelling is changed to the alternative Non-ionising, then
ISSIONONNONIONISIN, a string of 18 letters, occurs with only 4 distinct
The Commission, incidentally, is located in OBERSCHLEISSHEIM, Germany; that word contains five consecutive consonants [Eric Brahinsky].
TAXI is spelled the same way in eleven languages, according to
Dixon: English, French, German, Swedish, Spanish, Danish, Norwegian,
Dutch, Czech, Slovak, and Portuguese. Jeff Volgyi reports it is also spelled the
same way in Hungarian.
G. Strauss reports it is also spelled the same way in Romanian.
However, Emerson Werneck says that in
Portuguese, taxi is actually spelled táxi.
Emerson points out that SAUNA is spelled the same way in nine
languages: Finnish, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French,
German, Dutch, and Danish. Readers of this page have
reported it is also spelled the same way in Lithuanian,
Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, and Norwegian (although in Norwegian the
word badstue is more commonly used). In Swedish, bastu,
a short form of badstuga meaning (approximately) "bathing-hut,"
is more commonly used.
[Juozas Rimas, Nikola Petrovic,
Gabriel Ionita, Thor-Rune Fiskum,
Phil Smith writes, "Regarding the fact that 'sauna' is spelt the same in nine languages, in Japanese the
word uses the katakana characters (used for words that have come into the language from other countries)
and is spelt 'sa-u-na' too. This is unusual for katakana words, as they rarely match the original spelling,
such as 'kamera', 'pasokon' (personal computer), 'apaato' (apartment) and 'sabiro' (suit, originating from the
road name Savile Row in London, where tailors used to work)."
Dan Tilque has found that VETO is the same in at least 24
languages: Albanian, Azerbaijani, Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English,
Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian,
Lithuanian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, SerboCroatian,
Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. In Hungarian it is
spelled the same except for a diacritic. In Basque and Tagalog
it's spelled 'beto' and in Polish it's 'weto'.
In a paper published in 2013 in the journal PLOS One,
researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics announced that they had found strikingly similar versions
of HUH? in languages scattered across five continents, suggesting that it is a universal word. [Charles Turner]
In a 1982 Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, a lecturer pointed to a picture of
the tail spikes of a Stegosaurus and explained to the class of cavemen, “Now this end
is called the thagomizer ... after the late Thag Simmons.”
According to a 2006 article in New Scientist, paleontologists have
adopted the name THAGOMIZER.
Discover magazine reported in June 2007,
“Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, was the first
to use the term professionally, quipping, ‘And now, on to the thagomizer,’
when describing a specimen with broken tail spikes at a 1993 meeting.”
One might expect inflammation of the TENDON would be TENDONITIS, but dictionaries give the spellings
TENDINITIS and TENDONITIS, usually with a preference for the former spelling.
Early 20th century dictionaries show the spelling TENONITIS (with no d) and TENDINITIS as the variant.
THERBLIG, a unit of workplace efficiency, is a word created by
spelling approximately backwards the last name of engineer Frank B.
Gilbreth and psychologist Lillian Gilbreth. THERBLIG is not in
MWCD10; the three words in MWCD10 that were created as anagrams are
SPANDEX (for "expands"), SIDEBURNS (for "burnsides"),
and ITACONIC ACID (for "aconitic acid," from "aconite.")
MWCD11 adds COTININE, which it says is probably an anagram of "nicotine"
Placenames formed by reversing the name of the state or country in
which they are located are ADANAC (a village in western
Saskatchewan, Canada), ADAVEN (in Nevada), and SAXET
THEREIN is a seven-letter word that contains thirteen words
spelled with consecutive letters: the, he, her, er, here, I, there,
ere, rein, re, in, therein, and herein [Stuart Kidd].
THITHERWARDS contains 23: thitherward, thither, hi, hit,
hithe, hither, hitherward, hitherwards, I, it, ither, the, he, her,
er, wa, war, ward, wards, a, ar, ard and ards [álainn cruic].
SHADES contains hades, shade; ades, hade, shad; des, ade, had,
sha; es, de, ad, ha, sh; S, E, D, A, H, all of which are in W3.
["Word Torture," by Ralph Beaman, Word Ways.]
The Indian cities TIRUCHCHITTRAMBALAM and
TIRUCHCHIRAPPALLI both have the -chch- sequence, which this page previously described as "rare." However,
many other words with -chch- have been reported, as follows:
ARCHCHRONICLER, MLECHCHHA (W3, a person in India who does not practise Hinduism),
ARCHCHAMBERLAIN, ARCHCHANCELLOR, ARCHCHANTER, ARCHCHEMIC, KACHCHAN,
CHUCHCHI (a rare mushroom Morchella conica),
BOCHCHARE, BUCHCH, RACHCH, SLUCHCHED,
ENTACHCH, GROCHCHE, GRYCHCHE, KUCHCHA, PATCHCHE, RECHCHE, RUCHCHE, TECHCHE,
ACHCHA (a S. Asian expression meaning "is that so"),
[Juozas Rimas, Stuart Kidd, Philip Bennett, Paul Wright].
TROLLIED seems to be the longest word in W3 with the letters
in reverse alphabetical order. There are also SPOON-FEED and
SPOON-FED (although these words are usually spelled with
hyphens), SNIFFED, SPIFFED, SPOOFED, SPOOKED, SPOOLED,
SPOONED, SPOOMED, SNIGGED, TROLLED, TROOLIE (a palm tree),
and TSONECA (a Patagonian language).
SPONGED and WRONGED are the longest such
words if repeated letters are not allowed [Stuart Kidd, Philip Bennett].
UNCOPYRIGHTABLE (15 letters) is the longest word in common use
with no letter appearing more than once. Other such words:
SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC (17; not found in any dictionary, but
occurring in an article in Annals of Dermatology),
MISCONJUGATEDLY (15), DERMATOGLYPHICS (15; Stedman's
Electronic Medical Dictionary), AMBIDEXTROUSLY (14),
TROUBLEMAKINGS (14), SCHIZOTRYPANUM (14; Stedman's
Electronic Medical Dictionary), VESICULOGRAPHY (14; Stedman's
Electronic Medical Dictionary), UNDISCOVERABLY (14),
BENZHYDROXAMIC (14), HYDROMAGNETICS (14),
HYDROPNEUMATIC (14), PSEUDOMYTHICAL (14),
BRACHYPOLEMIUS (14, a genus of beetle), and
MACROXYLETINUS (14, a genus of beetle). [Charles Turner, Paul Wright]
Placenames with no repeating letters include
HONDEBLAFSPRUIT (South Africa),
SOUTH CAMBRIDGE (NY).
Some of the long place names are from Word Ways or were contributed by Stuart Kidd.
Stuart Kidd says that MELVIN SCHWARTZKOPF of Illinois
DEBORAH GLUPCZYNSKI, a doctor in Massachusetts, have
the longest names with no letter repeated. Andrew Davis reports that he lives in
BUCKFASTLEIGH (in Devon, England), which has 13 letters and no letter
repeating. JOHN TYLER is the only full name of a president of the United States which has no letter repeating.
UNDERFUND and UNDERGROUND are the only words in MWCD10 which start and
end with 'UND.'
The OED2 has UNDERGROUND and UNDERSOUND.
However, UNDERWOUND yields many hits
on Internet search engines [Stuart Kidd, Philip Bennett].
FORMALDEHYDETETRAMETHYLAMIDOFLUORIMUM is the longest word in which no letter occurs only once [Paul Wright].
Another word with this property is
USHER contains four personal pronouns (us, she, he, her).
USHERS has HERS as well, for a total of five personal pronouns
E is the most frequently occurring letter in English
(and French, Spanish, and German). Yet there are many long words that do not use the letter E. They include:
CHARGOGGAGOGGMANCHAUGGAGOGGCHAUBUNAGUNGAMAUGG (45 letters),
ZAMBIANOLIANGIOTICALOIGISTICOLOGPHOBIA (39 letters),
MIHUIITTILMOYOCCUITLANTONPICIXOCHITL (36 letters),
CONJUNCTIVODACRYOCYSTORHINOSTOMIZING (36 letters),
DICHLOROISOTHIOCYANATOOXOPHOSPHORUS (35 letters),
ANTIFLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION (33 letters),
CONJUNCTIVODACRYOCYSTOSTOMIZING (31 letters),
FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION (29 letters), and
ARGININOSUCCINICACIDURICALLY (28 letters).
These word have 27 letters:
These words have 25 letters:
These words have 24 letters:
These words have 23 leters:
These words have 22 letters:
WACO and WARE are the only U. S. radio station call
letters that exactly spelled the cities in which they were located
(Waco, Texas, and Ware, Massachusetts). WISE-FM is in Wise, Virginia. KING FM and TV
station is in King County, Washington, and KERN is located in Kern County, California. WHT in
Deerfield, Illinois, and WGHF in New York were apparently the
only radio call letters that exactly matched the owners'
initials (Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson and William G. H.
Finch). Television station WRGB in Schenectady was named for
GE executive Walter R. G. Baker.
Many suffixes in English change masculine words into feminine.
According to Stuart Kidd, only one works in reverse, converting a feminine noun to masculine:
WIDOW/WIDOWER. The only case where a prefix, not a suffix, feminizes
a masculine term is with the female for REP (a disreputable man): a DEMIREP.
There is only one word beginning with X in Noah Webster's first
dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language
(1806). The word is XEBEC.
In all of Shakespeare's plays and poetry, excluding Roman numerals,
only one word begins with X. The word is XANTHIPPE (the wife
of Socrates). It is found in The Taming of the Shrew [Nelson
H. F. Beebe].
The shortest word in English pronounced with three syllables is W [Charles Turner].
Jefferson B. Morris points out that www as an abbreviation for
"World Wide Web" has 9 spoken syllables, whereas the term being
abbreviated has only 3 or 4 spoken syllables. A similar occurrence
is WWII for "World War II."
The letter Z is pronounced ZED in most of the English-speaking world, but is pronounced ZEE in the United States.
The first known instance of “zee” being recorded as the correct pronunciation of the letter “z” was in Lye’s New Spelling Book, published in 1677. There still was a variety of common pronunciations in North America after this; but by the 19th century, this changed in the United States with “zee” firmly establishing itself thanks to Daniel Webster putting his seal of approval on it in 1827, and, of course, the Alphabet song copyrighted in 1835, rhyming “z” with “me.” [From this web page; thanks Charles Turner.]
The origin of ZZZ for the sound of snoring is unknown. It’s the last word in the Random House
College Dictionary, but the dictionary gives no origin.
The earliest known appearance of ZZZ
is in a Katzenhammer Kids strip from August 2, 1903 [Charles Turner].