A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia, Page 9

Last revision: Dec. 1, 2010


The words most likely to be misspelled (ratio of incorrect to correct spellings) according to a study of Usenet traffic several years ago were DUMBBELL, OCCURRENCE, MEMENTO, FRUSTUM, COLLECTIBLE, AMATEUR, DAIQUIRI, PASTIME, ACCIDENTALLY, PLAYWRIGHT, EMBARRASS, ACQUIT, HARASS, and PRONUNCIATION.


The study does not reveal common errors such as IT’S/ITS and YOUR/YOU’RE.

Another study of misspelled words at http://www.barnsdle.demon.co.uk/spell/error.html shows the following words (or forms of these words) as the most frequently misspelled: MINUSCULE, MILLENNIUM, EMBARRASSMENT, OCCURRENCE, ACCOMMODATE, PERSEVERANCE, SUPERSEDE, NOTICEABLE, HARASS, INOCULATE, OCCURRED, SEPARATE, EMBARRASS, PRECEDING, INDISPENSABLE, DEFINITELY, PRIVILEGE, GAUGE, QUESTIONNAIRE, EXISTENCE, MINIATURE, PRECEDE, WEIRD, RHYTHM, SEPARATELY, CONSCIENTIOUS, MISSPELL, HIERARCHY, GRAMMAR, CALENDAR, and WITHHOLD. The author of the website also points out, "Anecdotal evidence and personal observation indicate that a few other cases where a "non-standard" spelling is frequently used on the Internet are alright for all right, alot for a lot, and it’s for the possessive its. However, search engines don't look for extremely common words (asking one to search for posts with the word the would turn up just about every post ever made) and looking for two-word phrases (all right, a lot) is trickier than for a single word.”

Some of the words in the above paragraph have alternate spellings in some dictionaries (such as "miniscule" and "millenium").

Some other commonly misspelled words are BARBECUE and UKULELE, although some dictionaries also give "ukelele" and Chambers has "barbeque.” MWCD11 now has bicep as an entry, dated 1939, although the preferred term BICEPS is dated 1634. In Samuel Johnson’s abridged 1843 Edition of his dictionary, FRUSTUM is misspelled as "frustrum.” CALENDAR is misspelled when used as the title of a chart in Noah Webster’s first dictionary, and spelled correctly elsewhere on the same page. (There is, however, an unrelated word "calender.”) Bob Doerschuk reports that even professional musicians misspell ACCORDION, ending it with -ian.

The Internet search engine Google revealed that in May 2001 its top five misspelled queries were amtrack, volkswagon, jenifer lopez, william sonoma, shakespear. In June 2001 its top five misspelled queries were ticket master, wimbeldon, morpheous, victoria secret, anna kornikova. In July 2001 its top five misspelled queries were audio galaxy, bigbrother, recipies, mcdonalds, bluebook. In August 2001 its top five misspelled queries were rotatorcuff, southpark, niagra falls, destinys child, sailormoon.

STEGOSAURUS is spelled Stegasaurus in a Doonesbury comic strip in 2004 [Charles Turner].


Pangrams are sentences containing all the letters of the alphabet. Pangram is in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., with the earliest citation from 1964, although the word pangrammatic goes back to 1933.

Here is a list of pangrams compiled from various sources. The number of letters used is shown for most of them. The shortest ones are obviously contrived and use obscure words only found in unabridged dictionaries. One even uses a Roman numeral. Stuart Kidd assisted with this compilation.

In the following list, Stuart Kidd has unmasked some of the pangrams:

In the 1980s Michael Jones submitted two pangrams to Guinness: "Veldt jynx grimps waqf zho buck" and "Qursh gowf veldt jynx zimb pack.” Guinness chose the first one. Michael writes that the second pangram "describes a scene where some Arabian coins are striking a group of flies gathered on that woodpecker. (Qursh can be used as plural according to W3; all my words come from W3). I liked this second pangram more because I preferred using 'qursh' over 'waqf,' but Guinness chose the other one.”

In 2004, Bobby Tremblay submitted the following 26-letter pangram to this website: "I (X’s glyph Q'd of Zen) jab Turk cwm 'V'.” He explains, "X is a symbolic representation for Christ, glyph is a nonverbal sign, cwm is a word for valley, and 'V' is symbol for victory. The question of the use of Q'd as an exponent may arise and the pagram may be changed to read, 'I (X’s glyph of Zen) jab, QD, Turk cwm "V", where QD is found in most dictionaries meaning "each day.”'"

The known list of creators of these pangrams is as follows: Stephen Joseph Smith, Gyles Brandreth, Claude Shannon, Guillaume Macaire, Ted Clarke, Vincent J. Carco, Kenneth W. Pratt. If one of these pangrams is yours, please notify me and I'll add your name.

Jonathan Hoefler of the Hoefler Type Foundry writes:

I'm a typeface designer, and as such I find myself inexorably collecting odd words. When my studio develops a new design, we typically run it through a broad collection of pangrams. Most of these are shopworn favorites, but from time to time we find ourselves adding one to the mix. "Wham! Volcano erupts fiery liquid death onto ex-jazzbo Kenny G" found its way into the proofing document a few years ago, alongside "Barkeep! A flaming tequila swizzle and a vodka and Ajax, hold the cherry.” An introspective period produced "You go tell that vapid existentialist quack Freddy Nietzsche that he can just bite me, twice.” In honor of the esteemed type designers Hermann Zapf and Jovica Veljovic, I penned "Mix Zapf with Veljovic and get quirky beziers," and to another designer: "Baroque? Hell, just mix a dozen wacky pi fonts & you've got it.”

The pangrams listed above are his originals.

Jan Pulkrábek writes:

A very well known Czech pangram is the sentence: "Ó, náhlý déšť teď zvířil prach a čilá laň běží s houfcem gazel k úkrytům.” ("Oh, sudden rain has whirled dust now and a lively hind with a herd of gazelles is running to the shelters.”; letters "q", "w" and "x" are not included because they occur only in loanwords). A pangram including all Czech letters with diacritics (and used for testing computer fonts), but lacking many letters without diacritics is: "Příliš žluťoučký kůň úpěl ďábelské ódy.” ("A horse which was too yellow moaned devilish odes.”)

An article by Dr. Crypton (aka Paul Hoffman), “Puzzles Pitfalls Paradoxes,” in the March 1985 Science Digest listed four 26-letter pangrams submitted by readers, who were encouraged in an earlier issue to submit pangrams using words from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary:

And now to change the subject to another bit of nonsense, I am pleased to award Q-BOTS robotics kits to the four readers who, aided by Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, wrote the best pangrams. A perfect pangram, you'll recall, is a 26-letter sentence that uses all letters of the alphabet. Like double dactyls, pangrams increase your vocabulary—albeit with some strange words.

Randall Kryn, of Oak Park, Illinois, contributed “Shiv cwm lynx, fjord qutb, zap keg.” Kryn was kind enough to provide a translation: A powerful Islamic saint (qutb) who lives in a fjord is told first to knife a troublesome lynx that lives in a mountain hollow (cwm) and then to celebrate by awesomely attacking a keg of brew.

Brian Phillips, of Kansas City, Missouri, submitted the equally esoteric “Schwyz fjord map vext Qung bilk.” This means, of course, that a cheat (bilk) from the Qung tribe in southern Africa could not understand a map of fjords in Schwyz, a canton of Switzerland.

Kent Teufel, of Hillsboro, Oregon, contributed the imaginative “Fly vext bird; zag cwm’s qoph junk!” Teufel’s explanation is simple: A blimp explodes, shattering a sign in Hebrew. Pieces of qoph, the nineteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, fall into a cwm. An annoyed, low-flying bird is told to zag in order to avoid the falling pieces.

Falko Schilling, of Saxtons River, Vermont, sent me “Qoph’s jag biz vext drunk cwm fly.” It means, wrote Schilling, that “the business of making the sharp notched edge on the nineteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet irritated the inebriated fly from the mountain hollow.” Judging from the 1,200 entries I received, qoph and cwm are household words to readers of this magazine.

[Thanks to Michael Jones for providing the above excerpt from the article.]

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