Definitions

residuum

English words with uncommon properties

For the purposes of this article, any word which has appeared in a recognised general English dictionary published in the 20th century or later is considered a candidate. For interest, some archaic words, non-standard words and proper names are also included.

The treatment of words of foreign origin can be problematic. The entire history of English involves influence and loanwords from other languages, and this process continues today (see Foreign language influences in English). However, there is a grey area between foreign words and words accepted as English. The Oxford English Dictionary calls such words "resident aliens". Generally, a word of foreign origin is legitimate here if it may be encountered in an English text without translation.

Combinations of letters

Many vowels

It is important to note the difference between vowel letters and vowel sounds. A string of letters may represent a single vowel sound (like ea in head); conversely, a single letter may represent multiple vowels, or a diphthong (such as boy, with one diphthong, or Peoria, which has multiple diphthongs). This section deals with words that have many vowel letters, which may, however, represent a smaller number of vowel sounds. Unless otherwise specified, "vowels" here refers to the regular vowels, a, e, i, o, u.

Euouae (a type of cadence in mediæval music) contains six vowel letters in a row. It is a pseudo-word, however, formed from the vowels of the last six syllables of the "Gloria Patri" doxology: "seculorum. Amen". It is also often spelt evovae.

There is only one common word in English that has five vowels in a row: queueing. More unusual examples are cooeeing (making a "cooee" sound), miaoued or miaouing (from miaou, to make a sound like a cat; more commonly miaow or meow). Another candidate is zoaeae, a plural of zoaea. Zoaea, more commonly spelt zoea, is a larval stage in crustacean development. Those who write using the ligature "æ" may consider the singular to have only three vowels (zoæa). Capitalised words include Rousseauian (pertaining to the philosopher Rousseau), Aeaea or Aiaia (a location in Greek mythology) and the related adjectives Aeaean/Aiaian, and Iouea, a genus of sea sponges.

The list of common words with four vowels in a row is also fairly short, and includes aqueous, Hawaiian, obsequious, onomatopoeia, pharmacopoeia, queue, plateaued, miaou, and sequoia, amongst a few others.

Examples of words consisting entirely of vowels, including proper names and some words already mentioned, are:

  • a (the indefinite article)
  • aa (a geological term for a type of lava)
  • ae (a Scots adjective form of "one")
  • Aeaea or Aiaia (a location in Greek mythology)
  • aeaeae (magic)
  • ai (the three-toed sloth)
  • aia (a Brazilian bird)
  • Aiea (a town in Hawaii)
  • au (French for "to" or "with", encountered in English in compounds such as au pair and au fait)
  • euouae (a type of cadence in mediaeval music)
  • euoi (a Greek exclamation of joy)
  • eau (French for "water", encountered in English in compounds such as eau de cologne)
  • Eiao (one of the Marquesas Islands)
  • I (first person pronoun)
  • Iao (a Polynesian god)
  • I'i (a figure in Polynesian mythology) – contains a consonant, but not one written with a letter generally recognized as a consonant in English.
  • Io (a figure in Greek mythology, also a moon of Jupiter)
  • Iouea (a genus of sea sponges)
  • O (interjection)
  • oe (a whirlwind in the Philippines)
  • oi (an impolite exclamation used to gain someone's attention)
  • oo (a Hawaiian bird).

Exclamations such as oooo, aaaa and eeee are not normally considered legitimate words.

Other words that have a high proportion of vowels, including some proper names, are as follows.

  • 6 letters, 1 consonant:
    • Aeolia (a region now in Turkey)
    • Eogaea (a supposed ancient continent)
    • Euboea (a Greek island)
    • ooecia (plural of ooecium, part of the reproductive system of some primitive animals)
    • zoaeae, Aeaean/Aiaian, eunoia, already mentioned
  • 7 letters, 1 consonant:
    • ouabaio (an African tree that yields the poison ouabain)
  • 8 letters, 2 consonants:
    • aboideau or aboiteau (a sluice gate)
    • aureolae (plural of aureola, a halo)
    • Beaulieu (a village in Hampshire, England)
    • epopoeia (variant of epopee, an epic poem)
    • eulogiae (plural of eulogia, holy bread in an Eastern Orthodox ritual)
    • quiaquia (a type of fish)
  • 9 letters, 2 consonants:
  • 10 letters, 3 consonants:
    • autoecious (pertaining to a fungus that completes all stages of its life cycle on one host)
  • 11 letters, 3 consonants:
  • 12 letters, 3 consonants:
    • Saurauiaceae (a plant family)

Containing all the vowels

The word Iouea, a genus of sea sponges, contains all five regular vowels and no other letters. Other short words containing all the regular vowels are eunoia at six letters, followed by sequoia (and a variety of rarer words such as Aeonium, eulogia, miaoued) at seven. The shortest words with all six vowels (including y) are oxygeusia (an abnormally acute sense of taste), Oxyuridae (a family of parasitic nematodes), Oxyurinae (a sub-family of ducks), and aeriously (meaning "airily"; see below), with nine letters. Oxyuriases (plural of oxyuriasis) has ten letters; Oxyuroidea (an order of nematodes; see below) has ten letters, including a second o.

There are many words that feature all five regular vowels occurring only once in alphabetical order, the most common being abstemious and facetious. Two of the shortest, at eight letters, are caesious and anemious (OED); and aerious (OED) has only seven letters. Some others are abstentious, acheilous, arsenious, arterious, tragedious, fracedinous, and Gadsprecious (all in OED). Considering y as a vowel, the suffix -ly can be added to a number of these words; thus the shortest word containing six unique vowels in alphabetical order is aeriously, with nine letters (OED); the much more common facetiously has eleven letters.

Subcontinental and uncomplimentary are common words having the five vowels once only in reverse order. One of the shortest such words, at eight letters, is Muroidea, a superfamily of rodents.

Dasyuroidea (a superfamily of marsupials; in OED) has the full set of six vowels including y once only in reverse order, but with an extra a preceding. Oxyuroidea (in OED; ten letters) has o preceding the sequence of vowels in reverse order, and it may be the shortest with such a sequence.

No vowels but "y"

Rhythms is the longest common word containing neither a, e, i, o or u. Gypsyfy, gypsyry, symphysy, nymphly and nymphfly are as long or longer but rarer. The archaic word twyndyllyngs has been cited as the longest of all. Syzygy, which contains three y's, is still in common usage.

Many consonants

The longest word with only one vowel is strengths (9 letters), packing six consonant sounds into a single syllable. The words psychorhythms (13), rhythmlessly (12) and polyrhythms (11) are longer, but each clearly uses the letter y as a vowel. There are also a variety of onomatopoeic words, such as the nine-letter tsktsking (making a "tsktsk" sound), which appears in Chambers Dictionary (in which case tsktsks, seven letters and no vowels, should also be possible). Eight-letter words with just one vowel are also fairly rare—as well as strength itself, some examples are schmaltz, schnapps and twelfths.

Candidates for words with seven consonants in a row are Twelfthstreet (normally two words but sometimes written as one, as in a song title; Eighthstreet is feasible by analogy), and Hirschsprung, as in Hirschsprung's disease (though this is after a Danish surname).

The place-name Knightsbridge has six consonants in a row (with four consonant sounds), as do the compound words catchphrase, latchstring, sightscreen, watchspring and watchstrap, and the somewhat more obscure borschts (plural of borscht, a type of soup from Eastern Europe), the German-derived festschrift (a collection of writings honouring a noted academic), Eschscholzia (a plant genus) and bergschrund (a glacier crevasse).

Apart from words already mentioned (and their plurals), long words with just two, three, and four vowels include Christchurch, spendthrifts, stretchmarks (2 vowels, 12 letters); farthingsworths, shillingsworths, strengthfulness (3, 15); and handcraftsmanship, splanchnemphraxis (4, 17).

Alternating vowels and consonants

The superlatively long word honorificabilitudinitatibus (27 letters) alternates consonants and vowels, as do the slightly more prosaic medical terms hepatoperitonitis and mesobilirubinogen (both 17 letters). The longest such words that are reasonably well known may be overimaginative, parasitological and verisimilitudes (all 15 letters). As a country, United Arab Emirates is unsurpassed for length in its vowel/consonant alternation.

The longest alternating words beginning with a vowel are possibly the 16-letter adenolipomatosis (a glandular condition), aluminosilicates (a class of chemical compounds containing aluminium and silicon) and anatomicomedical (relating to anatomy and medicine).

Theopneustia (an obscure word for Christian divine inspiration) alternates pairs of vowels and consonants.

Doubled, tripled, and quadrupled letters

Esssse, a spelling used for the word ash in a 14th-century text, has four of the same letter in sequence and is cited in the second edition of the OED. A number of English words have three of the same letter in sequence, but almost all are constructions involving a suffix, and could arguably be hyphenated or, in some cases, written as two words. They include Aaadonta, goddessship, headmistressship, willless, and bulllike. The OED contains the word frillless. In some fabrication plants, scrap is called offfall, though a hyphen (off-fall) is nearly universal. This suggests that similar material could be described as offfalllike.

Other candidates are the archaic agreeeth (third person singular present tense of the verb to agree), Cavaticovelia aaa (a Hawaiian water bug), and tweeer (comparative adjective of the qualifier twee meaning infantilely kitsch), though comparison to freer and seer argues against the third e. The use of tree as a transitive verb meaning "to drive up a tree" makes the dog the tree-er and the cat the tree-ee. There are also many possessives ending in -ss's (e.g. actress's). The term cryptozoology means the study of hidden animals and oology is the study of eggs; this implies that the study of hidden eggs could be described as cryptooology, where each o possesses a separate sound.

Place-names include Rossshire and Invernessshire, both in Scotland, UK (though both of these counties are usually hyphenated in official documentation), and Kaaawa in Hawaii (although this is a common misspelling of Kaaawa in Hawaiian, the okina being a glottal stop). The famous Welsh placename Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch contains the letter l four times in a row, but the llll is in fact the single Welsh digraph ll twice, rather than four ls; the name was in fact concocted in the 1860s as a publicity stunt.

Bookkeeper has three consecutive doubled letters (subbookkeeper, which has four, seems to have been invented by word puzzlists). There is also a section of a fly rod called a hookkeeper. Sweet-toothed and hoof-footed are hyphenated examples. Many words have two consecutive doubled letters; examples are roommate, balloon, coffee, woolly, and succeed. The word possessionlessness has four non-consecutive sets doubled letters; examples of common words with three sets are addressee, committee and keenness.

The letters a, j, q, x and y appear doubled only in words imported from other languages or proper names (e.g. aardvark, hajj, Zaqqum, Exxon, Hayyim). Doubled h, i, k, u, v and w are also rare in English, with hh and ww occurring only in compounds. Examples include:

  • h: bathhouse, beachhead, fishhook, hitchhiker, roughhouse, withhold
  • i: genii, radii, skiing, taxiing
  • k: bookkeeper, chukka, dekko, tikka, trekked, markka
  • u: continuum, muumuu, duumvir, residuum, vacuum
  • v: bevvy, bivvy, civvies, chivvy, divvy, flivver, navvy, revving, skivvy, savvy
  • w: glowworm, meadowwort, strawworm powwow (a Native American gathering)

Many repeated letters

The following table lists words that repeat the given letter many times. The number of repetitions is shown in brackets. If the word with the most repetitions is dubious (for example, it is hyphenated, arguably should be hyphenated, is a proper name, or seems artificial) then further candidates with fewer repetitions are offered. Where there are many candidate words with the same number of repetitions only the shortest or commonest (judged subjectively) is listed.

a taramasalata (6) – a fish roe paste
Galatasaray (5) – a Turkish football team
b bibble-babble (6) – babble
flibbertigibbet (4) – a silly woman
c pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (6) – a famously long word for a respiratory disease
micrococcic (5) – relating to micrococcus, a type of bacterium
sacrococcygeal (4) – pertaining to both the sacrum and the coccyx
d diddle-daddled (7) – wasted time
dodecahemidodecahedron (5) – a type of polyhedron (solid geometrical figure)
e ethylenediaminetetraacetate (7) – a chemical compound, used as a drug
degenerescence (6) – decay
beekeeper (5)
f riffraff (4) – undesirable people
g Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg (15) – the name of a lake in Massachusetts
hugger-muggering (5) – acting secretly
giggling (4) – laughing in a silly manner
h High-Churchmanship (5) – the state of being a High-Churchman, that is, supporting the High Church (a faction of the Anglican church)
Rhamphorhynchus (4) – a genus of pterosaur or orchid
i floccinaucinihilipilification (9) – a famously long word meaning "the action of estimating as worthless"
indivisibilities (7) – plural of indivisibility
indivisibility (6) – the state of being indivisible
j jejunojejunostomy (4) – a surgical procedure carried out on the intestine
k knickknack (4) – a small article of little value
l Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (11) – a town in Wales
lillypilly (5) – an Australian tree
lulliloo (4) – to welcome joyously
m mammogram (4) – a breast X-ray
n nonannouncement (6) – absence of an announcement
inconveniencing (5) – causing difficulty for
o pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (9) – a famously long word for a respiratory disease
Chrononhotonthologos (7) – the name of a play by English writer Henry Carey
odontonosology (6) – dentistry
p hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia (5) – the fear of long words
whippersnapper (4) – a young, impertinent person
q Qaraqalpaq (3) – a Middle-Eastern language
Albuquerque (2) – a city in New Mexico
quinquennium (2) – a period of five years
riqq (2) – a type of Egyptian tambourine
r strawberry-raspberry (6) – a Japanese plant
refrigerator (4) – an appliance for keeping food cool
s possessionlessness (8) – the state of being without possessions
senselessness (6) – lack of sense
t tittle-tattle (6) – gossip
anticonstitutionalist (5) – someone who opposes a constitution
u humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa (9) – a Hawaiian fish
unscrupulous (4) – lacking morals
v ovoviviparous (3) – producing eggs that hatch within the body
w wow-wow (4) – a type of gibbon
powwow (3) – a Native American gathering
swallowwort (3) – any of several plants
x hexahydroxycyclohexane (3) – a chemical compound, part of the vitamin B complex
executrix (2) – a female executor
maxixe (2) – a Brazilian dance
exotoxin (2) – a soluble protein
y polysyndactyly (4) – webbing of the hands or feet
syzygy (3) – a kind of astronomical coordination or alignment''
z zenzizenzizenzic (6) – the eighth power or exponent of a number
razzmatazz (4) – showy spectacle
pizzazz (4) – the quality of being showy or attractive

Ignoring the 20-letter play title Chrononhotonthologos, the longest words containing only one of the five regular vowels (overlooking y) may be the 17-letter proctocolonoscopy and synchrocyclotrons. Long words with only one of the six vowels including y are the 15-letter defencelessness and respectlessness.

A candidate for longest word containing only one type of consonant is the 10-letter coucicouci, a word apparently included in at least one version of Roget's Thesaurus to mean "imperfect", but otherwise almost unknown. 9-letter words are allolalia (a speech disturbance) and Coccaceae (an obsolete name for a family of bacteria).

Words containing the same sequence of letters multiple times are often relatively uninteresting, being formed by reduplication (e.g. higgledy-piggledy, namby-pamby), repetition of the same word or essentially the same word (countercountermeasure, gastrogastrostomy, benzeneazobenzene), or compounding (handstands, foreshores, nightlight). Some other examples, with the repeated sequence in brackets followed by the number of repetitions, include: nationalisation (ation, 2), undergrounder (under, 2), patinating (atin, 2), assesses (sses, 2), Mississippi (issi, 2), hotshots (hots, 2), Teteté (te, 3), expressionlessness (ess, 3), phosphophorin (pho, 3), Pitjantjatjara (tja, 3), tintinnabulating (tin, 3), nonconfrontation (on, 4), trans-Panamanian (an, 4).

Long words with just two, three, four, etc. distinct letters include booboo, deeded, muumuu, Teteté (2 distinct letters, 6 letters in total); assesses, referrer (3, 8); senselessness (4, 13); defenselessness (6, 15); disinterestedness (7, 17); and institutionalisation (8, 20).

Isograms

Words in which no letter is used more than once are called isograms (though its use in this sense is jargon restricted to those who enjoy recreational linguistics, and is not commonly found in dictionaries). Uncopyrightable, with fifteen letters, is the longest common isogram in English (some also allow uncopyrightables). Misconjugatedly and dermatoglyphics share the distinction but are less well-known; subdermatoglyphic is two letters longer but even more obscure — it has only one report of alleged live use (an article in Annals of Dermatology), and supposedly means "of or pertaining to the patterns on the lower skin layers."

The words blepharoconjunctivitis and pneumoventriculography (as well as several others) contain 16 of the 26 letters of the alphabet, though they are not isograms as some letters are repeated.

Sometimes isograms are defined as words in which each letter appears the same number of times, not necessarily just once. Long examples in which each letter appears twice are scintillescent (an obscure word for sparkling or twinkling), Cicadellidae (a family of insects), Gradgrindian (in the manner of Gradgrind, a character in Dickens' novel Hard Times noted for his soulless devotion to facts and statistics), happenchance (chance circumstance), and trisectrices (plural of trisectrix, a type of geometrical curve). Long isograms in which each letter appears three times include sestettes (plural of sestette, a variant of sestet or sextet), and the fairly uninteresting cha-cha-cha (a type of dance music). The words senescence, intestines and arraigning have four distinct letters, each of which appears an even number of times. The word unprosperousness has seven such letters.

Unusual word endings

dreamt and its derivatives are the only common English words that end in mt. (Though many Americans prefer using dreamed.) Other -mt words include the Scots word fremt (usually fremd or fremmit) meaning "foreign" or "estranged" (cf. the German "fremd", same meaning) and, familiar but of foreign origin, Klimt, the Austrian painter.

Despite the assertions of a well-known puzzle, modern English does not have three common words ending in -gry. Angry and hungry are the only ones. There are, however, a number of rare and obsolete words; see -gry for a further discussion.

Excluding derivatives, there are only two words in English that end -shion (though many words end in this sound). These are cushion and fashion (derivatives include pincushion, refashion and misfashion).

There are only two common English words ending in -cion. These are coercion and suspicion (the other two are the less-common cion and scion).

-mt and -gry are possibly the best-known unusual word endings, but there are many others exhibited by only one or two everyday words. Some examples, excluding derivative words, are -ln (kiln, Lincoln),-tl (axolotl, Quetzalcoatl, rotl, Ueueteotl), -bt (doubt, debt), -igy (effigy, prodigy), -nen (linen), and cay (decay, Biscay).

There are similarly few words ending in -v. Examples found in English dictionaries, including some words of foreign origin, are chav, lev, shiv, Slav, Yugoslav, spiv and tav. Abbreviations and acronyms that have to a greater or lesser extent attained the status of words include derv (diesel fuel), guv (British informal term of respectful address, from governor), lav (lavatory), luv (love), perv (pervert), rev (as of an engine, from revolution), sov (British, old-fashioned, for sovereign, the coin). There are also numerous place-names and personal names, especially of Russian or Eastern European origin, such as Kiev, Chekhov, Molotov, Prokofiev.

Unusual word beginnings

Words beginning with a double letter are generally very rare. The most common combination is probably oo- (oodles, oolong, oomph, oops, ooze, and a number of less familiar examples, mostly technical words incorporating the prefix oo-, meaning "egg"), followed by aa- (familiar examples being aardvark and Aaron), and ee- (eel, eerie, eek, eesome (attractive)).

Otherwise such words are unlikely to be considered part of the English vocabulary, and almost entirely of foreign origin. Some examples are Ccoya (Inca queen), iiwi (a Hawaiian bird), llama, llano (a grassy plain), and llanero (someone who lives on a llano). There are, however, numerous Welsh placenames beginning Ll- (e.g. Llandudno, Llanberis)—plus the familiar personal names Lloyd and Llewel(l)yn—and a smaller number beginning Ff- (e.g. Ffestiniog, Ffrith). A number of Japanese names begin Ii- when transliterated into the Roman alphabet.

The words euouae, Aeaea and euoi, mentioned earlier under "Many vowels", start with six, five and four vowels respectively. There are very few other words starting with four vowels. Some proper name examples are: El Aaiún (a city in Western Sahara), Aeaetes (a character in Greek mythology), Aiea (a town in Hawaii), Aouad (personal name), Aouita (personal name), Euaechme (a character in Greek mythology), Ueueteotl (an Aztec god) and El Ouaer (a retired Tunisian football goalkeeper).

The list of words starting with three vowels is rather longer, but most are obscure. Some of the more familiar examples are: aeolian (relating to the wind), aeon (an age), aoudad (a sheep-like animal of northern Africa), eau (French for "water", encountered in English in compounds such as eau de Cologne), Iain (personal name), oeuvre (an artist's body of work), Ouagadougou (capital of the African country Burkina Faso), and ouija (a board used by mediums to reveal spirit messages). Aeolian and aeon are British English spellings.

There are similarly few English words beginning with a large number of consonants. Tsktsks appears in Collins Dictionary. The words crwth and cwtch (of Welsh origin) might be claimed to consist of five consonants, but the "w" clearly functions as a vowel. There is also a surname Schkrohowsky of Russian origin, and The Oxford Companion to Music lists Schtscherbatchew as an alternative spelling (which is a transliteration into the German language) of the surname of Russian composer Vladimir Shcherbachev, although in the Cyrillic alphabet, 'schch' is but one character Щ.

There are a reasonable number of words beginning with four consonants. The commonest beginnings are phth- (phthalein, phthisis, Phthirus) and sch- (mostly words of German/Yiddish origin such as schlep, schmaltz, schnapps). Other examples are chthonic, pschent, sphragide and tshwala.

A selective list of words with other unusual initial letter combinations follows. Unsurprisingly, many are of foreign origin: bdellium, bwana, cnemis, ctenoid (comb-like), czar, dghaisa (a Maltese rowing boat), dvandva, dziggetai (a Mongolian wild ass), fjord, Gbari (an African language), gmelina, jnana, kgotla (in southern Africa, a meeting place), kshatriya, kvetch, kwacha, mbaqanga, mho, mnemonic, mridanga, Mwera (an African language), mzungu (in East Africa, a white person), Ndebele, ngaio, ngwee, oquassa (a type of North American trout), pfennig, pneumonia, ptarmigan, pzazz (glamour), qawwali, qintar, qoph, sforzando, sfumato, sjambok, svelte, tmesis, tsunami, tzar, vlei (in southern Africa, a seasonally flooded area), vroom (a revving sound), xcatik (kind of chilli found in Yucatan), Xhosa, xiphoid, xoanan (a carved wooden icon), xtabentún (Mayan liqueur), Yggdrasil, ylem, ynambu (a South American bird), yttrium, ytterbium, zloty, zwitterion, zwinger (originating from German).

Q without U

Containing the letters a, b, c, d...

Boldface and feedback both contain all the letters from a to f (there are many such words, but these are the shortest at eight letters). There is probably no common English word that contains all letters a through g. Feedbacking or deboldfacing may be acceptable in some usage. Black-figured (referring to a type of pottery decoration) and double-refracting are hyphenated examples.

Short words with a, b, c, d, and e in any order include abduce, backed, beclad, cabled, and debacle.

The shortest word with first occurrences of a, b, c, d, and e in order is abscede (OED; to move away). The shortest such word without repetitions is absconder.

The longest word consisting entirely of letters from the first half of the alphabet (a through m) may be Hamamelidaceae (a plant family) at 14 letters. Long common words include fickleheaded (12 letters), fiddledeedee (12), blackballed (11), and blackmailed (11).

Among the longest words consisting only of the letters a through g (the names of the notes of a musical scale) are: cabbaged (past tense of "to cabbage", meaning to steal), debagged (past tense of "to debag", meaning to remove the trousers of), Fabaceae and Fagaceae (all 8 letters).

The first seven letters of abecedarian (someone who is learning the alphabet) use only the first five letters of the alphabet. Several other words share this property, such as acceded and deadbeat.

Soupspoons (10) consists entirely of letters from the second half of alphabet, as does the hyphenated topsy-turvy and a number of rarer 10-letter words such as nonsupport (failure to support), puttyroots (plural of puttyroot, normally spelt putty-root: a species of orchid), and zoosporous (relating to a zoospore, a type of fungal or algal spore).

Zzyzx, a location in California, consists of only the last three letters of the alphabet.

Typewriter words

The longest words spelt solely with the left hand when typing properly using a QWERTY keyboard may be the 14-letter aftercataracts (secondary cataracts of the eye) and sweaterdresses (plural of sweaterdress, a knitted dress). The longest common words are the 12-letter desegregated, desegregates, reverberated, reverberates and stewardesses.

The 13-letter chemical name phyllophyllin can be typed solely with the right hand. The longest such word that is reasonably common is the 9-letter polyphony. The phrase Hoi polloi is another 9-letter example.

Common words of ten letters that can be spelled solely with the top line of letters on a QWERTY keyboard include perpetuity, proprietor, repertoire, property, and, fittingly, typewriter (though this may have been a deliberate goal driving the design of the QWERTY layout). There are at least two eleven-letter words, both rare: proterotype and rupturewort.

The eight-letter words ashfalls, Falashas, Hadassah, Haggadah and Haskalah can all be typed on the middle row of letters on the keyboard. The longest such common word is probably the seven-letter alfalfa.

No English word takes its letters exclusively from the bottom row of letters on a keyboard; neither vowels nor pseudo-vowels reside on this row.

Letters in alphabetic order

The longest words whose letters are in alphabetical order include the eight-letter Aegilops (a grass genus), and the seven-letter addeems (from the archaic verb addeem, meaning to award), alloquy (an archaic or literary word for an address), beefily (in a beefy manner), billowy (like a wave or surge), dikkops (a South African bird) and gimmors (plural of gimmor, an old-fashioned word for a mechanical contrivance). Many six-letter words have this property.

In reverse alphabetical order are the nine-letter spoonfeed and the eight-letter spoonfed and trollied.

There are a number of words that contain a string of four consecutive letters of the alphabet. The commonest combination is rstu, with most examples having the prefix under-, over- or super- (e.g. understudy, overstuff, superstud). Words with the combination mnop include cremnophobia (a fear of steep slopes), gymnopaedic (of birds, having unfeathered young), limnophilous (marsh-loving) and Prumnopitys (a genus of conifers). Chelmno, a town in Poland, has the unusual combination lmno.

The most common words formed only from consecutive letters of the alphabet are hi and no. Other possibilities are limited to ab (short for abdominal), de (arguably foreign), def (slang word meaning excellent), ef (the name of the letter f) and op (short for operation).

Palindromes

A palindrome is a word or phrase that is spelled the same whether read forward or backward, disregarding punctuation - such as "Madam, I'm Adam." The longest common single-word palindromes are "malayalam" (a south Indian language),deified, racecar, repaper, reviver, and rotator. See for a comprehensive list.

Kangaroo words

A kangaroo word is a word that contains all letters of another word, in order, with the same meaning.

First and last words by reversed spelling

In a dictionary that lists the reversed spellings of words alphabetically, some of the first entries (excluding proper names) would be:

  • a (=a, the indefinite article)
  • aa (=aa, a type of lava)
  • aab (=baa, the sound made by a sheep)
  • aahc (=chaa, a variant of char, British slang for tea)
  • aakkram (=markkaa, partitive singular (used after numbers) of markka, a former Finnish unit of currency)
  • ...

Some proper names would appear earlier: aabbirem (=Meribbaa, a Biblical name); aabmup (=Pumbaa); aabre (=Erbaa, a town in Turkey); aacisuan (=Nausicaa); aaemu (=Umeaa); aagsin (=Nisga'a).

The first entries that correspond to common words (including some proper names) would be, in normal letter order, casaba, Abba, Sheba, amoeba, Toshiba, Elba, melba, mamba, samba.

The last few entries all come from words ending -uzz, including:

  • zzuh (=huzz, to buzz or murmur)
  • zzuks (=skuzz, variant of scuzz)
  • zzul (=luzz, British slang, meaning to chuck)
  • zzum (=muzz, British slang, meaning to confuse)
  • zzurf (=fruzz, to brush hair the wrong way)

First and last words in anagram dictionary

Suppose that, in a dictionary of anagrams, the letters of each word are sorted into alphabetical order (for example, "alphabet" becomes "aabehlpt"), and then the resulting strings are themselves sorted alphabetically. After the usual culprits a and aa, some of the first few words in the dictionary (including only the singular form of nouns) would be:

  • aaaaaacceglllnorst (=astragalocalcaneal)
  • aaaaaaccegllnorrst (=calcaneoastragalar)
  • aaaaaalmrsstt (=taramasalata, a fish roe paste)
  • aaaaaannrstyy (=Satyanarayana, another name for Vishnu)
  • aaaaabbcdrr (=abracadabra, a word said when performing a magic trick)

The end of the list might appear something like:

  • uw (=Wu, a Chinese dialect (and region))
  • ux (=xu, a Vietnamese unit of currency)
  • uy (=yu, Chinese jade)
  • uz (=Zu, a Sumerian god)
  • uzz (=zuz, an ancient Hebrew coin)
  • xyyzz (=xyzzy, a magic word from the Colossal Cave Adventure)
  • xyyzzz (=zyzzyx, a type of wasp)

Other unusual spellings

Like the letter y, the letter w can serve as both a consonant and orthographic vowel; for example, how is pronounced /hau/ (with w representing the second half of the diphthong.)

The word cwm (pronounced "koom", defined as a steep-walled hollow on a hillside) is a rare case of a word used in English in which w represents a nucleus vowel, as is crwth (pronounced "krooth", a type of stringed instrument). Both words are in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. They derive from the Welsh use of w to represent a vowel. The word cwm is commonly applied to Welsh place names; cwms of glacial origin are a common feature of Welsh geography. It is also used to describe features in the Himalayas.

Both these examples may be classified as "words of foreign origin", as they are actual words in the Welsh language which have been absorbed into English. See coombe as the south-west English equivalent of cwm.

Scrabble

The highest-scoring words that would fit on a Scrabble board are benzoxycamphors (45) (not in any on-line dictionaries and possibly fictitious), sesquioxidizing (42) (sesquioxidized is in the OED), or oxyphenbutazone (41) (in both the TWL06 and SOWPODS official scrabble dictionaries). With the Q and Z fortuitously on the double-letter-score squares, 'sesquioxidizing' played across an edge of the board (which has three triple word squares) could score 62 × 27 = 1674 by itself, thus more than doubling the high score for an entire game in the English language Scrabble, 830, set by Michael Cresta in 2006. Benzoxycamphors would score only 59 × 27 = 1593 while oxyphenbutazone would only score 54 × 27 = 1458. Since there are only 7 letters to play in a turn, 8 of the 15 letters of these words need to be on the board already. Using SOWPODS words only in the rest of the game, single move scores could hypothetically be obtained of 1785 points with oxyphenbutazone and 2044 points with sesquioxidizing.

Pyramid words

A pyramid word contains a single occurrence of one letter, two of another letter, three of the next, etc. The longest examples have four occurrences of the most common letter. Common examples are banana, papaya, sleeveless, deadheaded and sereneness. Others include rememberer, restresses, chachalaca, kotukutuku, susurruses and Sassanians. In addition, Tennessee's and peppertree have been cited by Richard Lederer, with an analysis of some other interesting properties of the latter.

Pairs and groups of words

Homophones

Ewe and you are a pair of words with identical pronunciations that have no letters in common. Another example is the pair eye and I. However, such word pairs are often dependent on the accent of the speaker. For instance, Canadians might recognize a and eh as such a pair, whereas other English speakers might not. In Ireland, ewe and yo are homophonous also. An example of fourfold homophony is write, wright, rite, right. In some accents, the following nine words are all pronounced identically: air, are (unit of area), Ayr (Scottish town), Ayre (administrative division of the Isle of Man; also, without capital, an old spelling of "air"), e'er (poetic contraction of "ever"), ere (old-fashioned or poetic for "before"), err, eyre (historical English court), heir.

Rarely, pairs of homophones have opposite meanings. A well-known example is raise (to build or rise) and raze (to demolish or push down by force). The antonyms cleave (to split apart) and cleave (to adhere, or stick together) are homographs as well as homophones, as is patronize (to support) and patronize (to act condescendingly toward).

See also

Wiktionary appendices

Homographs

Homographs are words with identical spellings but different meanings. A famous example is the town of Reading (pronounced to rhyme with threading) vs. the gerund reading, as in reading a book (pronounced to rhyme with feeding). At one time the bookseller Blackwell's had a branch in Reading, signed "Blackwells Reading Book Shop", in which either pronunciation made sense.

See also List of English homographs.

Self-antonyms

A few English words have such disparate definitions that one meaning is the opposite of another. These are called "self-antonyms", "auto-antonyms" or "contronyms". Examples include cleave or clip (joining things together or taking them apart), fast (move quickly or fix in one spot), sanction (to give one's blessing or one's condemnation), and enjoin (to cause something to be done, to forbid something from being done). There are also rare instances of pairs of English words that are pronounced the same but have opposite meanings (e.g. raze and raise).

Sequences of words formed by the addition of letters

The nine-word sequence I, in, sin, sing, sting, string, staring, starting (or starling), startling can be formed by successively adding one letter to the previous word. There are a number of other nine-word sequences that use only common words, and numerous shorter sequences, such as the seven-word a, at, rat, rate, irate, pirate, pirates.

If rare words, proper names and/or obsolete words are allowed then sequences of at least eleven words are possible. One example is: a, ma (mother), mac (raincoat, British), mace (spice), macle (mineral), macule (skin spot), maculae (plural of macula, variant of macule), maculate (blotchy), masculate (to make strong, obsolete), emasculate, emasculated.

Al, Ala, Alan, Alana, Alayna is a sequence consisting only of first names.

A seven-word sequence in which letters are added to the end of the previous word is: ma, max (used in phrases such as to the max), maxi (a long skirt), maxim, maxima (plural of maximum), maximal, maximals (plural of maximal, used as noun in mathematics). An eight-word sequence including proper nouns is: ta (thanks, British), tam (Scottish cap), Tama (asteroid), Tamar (English river), tamari (soy sauce), tamarin (monkey), tamarind (tree), tamarinds (plural).

The one-syllable word are, with the addition of one letter, becomes area, a word with three syllables.

A six-word sequence in which letters are added to the beginning of the words is: hes (plural of he, used as a noun to mean a male), shes (plural of she), ashes, lashes, plashes (plural of plash, a splashing sound), splashes.

"ough" words

See Ough (combination).

Masculine and feminine adjectives

While common in other languages, in English there is perhaps only one adjective, blond, that declines for masculine and feminine: a blond man, a blonde woman. Sometimes the same distinction is applied to brunet (masculine) and brunette (feminine).

Long words

Antidisestablishmentarianism listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, was considered the longest English word for quite a long time, but today the medical term pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is usually considered to have the title, despite the fact that it was coined to provide an answer to the question 'What is the longest English word?'.

The Guinness Book of Records, in its 1992 and subsequent editions, declared the "longest real word" in the English language to be floccinaucinihilipilification at 29 letters. Defined as the act of estimating (something) as worthless, its usage has been recorded as far back as 1741.

Chemical nomenclature of organic compounds and especially proteins can easily beat any record, as official nomenclature rules lead to legitimate names thousands of letters long.

Longest one-syllable word

The longest one-syllable word in the English language is either squirreled (in American English; 2 syllables in British English and most other dialects), scraunched, or one of several 9-letter words (such as squelched). Strengths is the longest with only one vowel.

Unrhymable words

In the most common form of rhyme, words rhyme if they end in identically or nearly-identically sounding syllables, and match in stress. If a word has an unusual or unique ending syllable and no other word has a stress pattern to match, it does not rhyme. While many polysyllabic words have no rhyme, only a handful of single-syllable words fit this description. Excluding disputed loan words, whose foreign sounds make them obviously difficult, such unrhymable English words include angst, breadth, depth, gulf, mulcts, ninth, twelfth, and wolf. Many of these words' plurals are also unrhymable. Although it has two syllables, orange is arguably the most famous unrhymable word, though there exists a rare Sussex surname "Gorringe and a mountain in Wales named "Blorenge".

The word "purple" is also noted for its lack of rhymes, though there is a rare word curple, meaning the hind quarters of a horse and a Scottish English word hirple meaning to walk with a limp. Silver is commonly considered unrhymable, but in fact rhymes with chilver, a provincial English term meaning a ewe-lamb or ewe mutton. Note that some words rhyme if prefixed derivatives are allowed (like empurple or desilver), but this is not commonly considered proper rhyme.

The most common way to concoct a "rhyme" for such words—usually in humorous poetry—is to rhyme it with the first syllable of a word that is split over two lines, thus forming an enjambment (this is sometimes called Procrustean rhyme). An example is rhyming orange with car eng/ine, noted by Douglas Hofstadter. Likewise, Stephen Sondheim rhymed silver with "will, ver-/bosity, and time", and Willard R. Espy managed the couplet "I might distil Ver-/ona's silver".

A song famous for this style of rhyme was Arlo Guthrie's Motorcycle Song.

Words with large numbers of meanings

For many years, the word set had longest entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it has now been supplanted by make. The top five longest entries in the Online Third Edition are make; set; run; take; go.

See also

References

External links

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