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.