Friday - - Leisure -

Let’s play the word games Dmitri Borgmann got a pass­ing men­tion in last week’s vocab as a pi­o­neer in lo­gol­ogy, his own cre­ation that refers to re­cre­ational lin­guis­tics. At the be­hest of his poly­math friend Martin Gard­ner, Borgmann cre­ated a reg­u­lar jour­nal de­voted to words and word puzzles called Word Ways, which sur­vives to this day.

Long be­fore Scrab­ble en­thu­si­asts and ex­perts be­gan com­pil­ing word lists he’d al­ready pub­lished an ar­ti­cle on that pre­mium bonus­fetch­ing en­tity – the seven-let­ter word (in Scrab­ble if you empty your rack of all its seven tiles in a sin­gle move you net a 50-point bonus in ad­di­tion to the word score).

A seven-let­ter word also af­fords a player to jet­ti­son a sur­plus of vow­els or con­so­nants, which begs the ques­tion: is there a seven-let­ter word com­prised only of vow­els that’s al­lowed in the game? Scrab­ble fiends will tell you that there is, and it’s oioueae (I didn’t make that up, that’s from the Mu­sic Lovers’ En­cy­clo­pe­dia). There’s also Uoiauai (a lan­guage spo­ken in Pará State, Brazil), which suf­fers from be­ing a proper noun.

What about all-con­so­nant words? Sadly, there are none of seven let­ters. In fact you’d be hard-pressed to find one even of four let­ters (the long­est ‘le­gal’ one be­ing nth). Just for the record, how­ever, there is a seven-let­ter proper noun: comic strip char­ac­ter Joe Btf­s­plk in satir­i­cal Amer­i­can news­pa­per comic Li’l Ab­ner.

Just as dif­fi­cult is the search for seven-let­ter words with only one or two vow­els, the re­main­ing six or more po­si­tions be­ing oc­cu­pied by con­so­nants. Math­e­mat­i­cally, the one or two vow­els can oc­cupy 28 dif­fer­ent po­si­tions or com­bi­na­tions of po­si­tions, and no one has ever suc­ceeded in putting to­gether a list of 28 English words il­lus­tra­tive of all 28 cases. The present record holder is strengths, with arch­spy, breadths and thrifty oc­cu­py­ing po­si­tions of hon­our.

On the other hand, a word like se­quoia (mean­ing a type of tree) is vowel-rich, and its plu­ral se­quoias has al­ways left lo­gol­o­gists frus­trated; why couldn’t they have ended it with an “e” in­stead of an “s”? That would have al­lowed it to bloom into a rare and unique species – a word that has all five vow­els run­ning con­sec­u­tively.

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