Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unusual Words

On the way home from Edinburgh last week I discussed the subject of unusual words with my friends. Words like 'queueing' which have 5 vowels in a row, or 'catchphrase' which contains 6 consecutive consonants.

I particularly like words that have repeated letters or dots (as in 'hijinks' or 'Fiji'). Such words include 'wallless' (having no walls) and headmistressship.

Some words seem not to fit what they describe - for example: the word 'long' is short, and the word 'short' is longer. Same for the words 'big' and 'small'.


Anonymous said...

Interesting conversation there.

Seeing how you see patterns, shapes, and colors, have you spent much time studying symbols of the east?

Our alphanumeric symbology of language does produce interesting happenstance combinations, but the pattern-centric nature of eastern symbols has always been intriguing, although I know very little about it. The I-Ching, etc... have you studied these symbol-based languages? Do you ever get lost in thought about how humans choose to apply written patterns to the world around us?

Anonymous said...

You've briefly touched upon this fascinating subject in your book as well.

I always love writing words with dots in them (not in Urdu though because the dots in urdu unfortunately have a particular shape, that of a very small diamond whereas), in English it gives one a break when writing just to add two or three dots together, I sometimes add the dots to the words at the end of the line and it gives me immense pleasure in doing it.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, I recommend you to subscribe to AWAD who will send you a word (and its meaning) every weekday to your email address:

I think you will like it.

Today's word is 'epopee' meaning epic poetry.

Anonymous said...

I like "facetious" and "abstemious", where the vowels appear in alphabetical order. I don't know whether there are any others.

Also fascinating is the way that you read thngs differently according to what you're expecting to see. P is "puh", but it's a "r" sound in Russian or Greek. When I was learning Greek many years ago I found I was reading car number plates Greekly rather than Englishly.

Our ABC system is symbolic too, isn't it? "A" comes from a symbol for an ox (turn it upside down and extend the crossbar).

Anonymous said...

What about when the first letter of the word resembles the object.

eg. Olive, Orange, Pear, Pineapple, Snake, Dam, I, Zigzag,

if you write 'a' the handwritten way then 'apple' as well

Anonymous said...

Also the word 'eye'

The two e's are eyes (with eyebags)
and the y is a nose.

Daniel Tammet said...

Hi Stuckincustoms,

No I've never studied the symbols of the East. Language is certainly a fascinating thing.

Hi Kay,

Thanks for your contributions - very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel
Have you ever studied pictorial writing - the characters of chinese and japanese? Not only are these truly beautiful, they are also give rise to endless ideas and curiosities. I think you'd enjoy them immensely.

Jimbo said...

Indeed words are very interesting ... how about vacuum? Where else do we use 2 u`s in a row?

Rhythm has 6 consonants and no vowels.

What is the longest vowel only word?

Deus_ex said...

Yes there are heaps of these anomallies in existance, one of my favourites is:

A shipment - goods delivered by a car (usually)

Cargo - goods delivered by a ship

Have you ever been to Japan Daniel? It is a crack up to see the kinds of Tshirts the Japanese wear. They might have a shirt with an english word on it just because they like the aesthetic symbol and letter make up of that word as a whole - i guess similar to the aesthetic quality we attribute to their symbolic written language.

Like it would be funny and out-of-place to see a Japanese person at a heavy metal rock concert wearing a black t-shit with headmistressship written on it, or someone wlaking down the street with carpet on the front of their t shirt.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

'Almost', 'biopsy' and 'chintz'

Need I say more?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone complete (or contribute to) this alphabet for me:
put-you-up (thanks DW)

Anonymous said...



Can't think of the others yet.

In German there are lots of triple s's, because now (new spelling rules introduced a while ago) they don't write ß for a double s, they write the two s's out :-)

Anonymous said...


You say, to you, each number has a specific color, texture and shape.

Have you ever asked other savants
if they see the same color etc, for the same number?

I realise it's very unlikely.

But I would be very interested to find out.

My best wishes,

Don Maddocks
Melbourne, Australia

Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel,

I'm enjoying your blog, which I found after listening to tonight's fascinating BBC interview with you.

A comment from someone who sometimes teaches phonetics: while 'queueing' has 5 vowel LETTERS in a row, phonetically it has no successive vowel sounds; the glide [w] intervenes between the [u] and the [I].


Anonymous said...

A couple of questions. Re numerals:
1. Do you have the same reaction to numerals when they are written out - eg, seven - as from the numeral 7?
2. Do you have the same reaction to numerals written in a foreign language? For example, does the Arabic numeral for 7 bring the same reaction as our European numeral 7? Do you visualise it in the same way?
3. I assume that if you learnt Pi in Arabic, you could recite it in the same way as you did in English?
4. I suspect that the origin of the universe is mathematical. I wonder about your thoughts on this matter.

Anonymous said...

here's a couple for you alphabet mumofab,


and if we're allowing hyphenated words then we can have


though i don't know if anyone actually says video-savvy

Greg said...

Interesting that one of the ugliest words in the English language 'pulchritudinous' means 'beautiful.'

Apparently some of the most beautiful words in the English language are 'love and 'bread.'

For someone with a linguistic mind as yours, Daniel, the Japanese kanji holds many treasures. I recommend Henshall's 'A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters.' (Tuttle, 1988, ISBN 0804820384)

gaspaheangea said...

You want to read this article about the Grelling-Nelson Paradox

Anonymous said...

I am not a linguist nor a particularly gifted person. But I can say that seeing words as character symbols, as in Japanese , seems to register in my mind faster than English words...( granted my first language is Japanese!)

Anonymous said...

Amerikkka [urban american slang]
queeg-quag [can't seem to solve for this without resorting to proper nouns or nonsense]
divvy ["V for Vendetta," anyone?]
Xerxes [R, S]

Although it doesn't exactly pertain to our "game," I'd also like to nominate the horrendous "hemidemisemiquaver" for honorable mention.

Bonus Question: If you pulled the wings off of a fly, wouldn't you be left with a walk?

Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel,

I heard you are fascinated with Finno-ugric languages. Well, those go well with weird and unusual words. Like the longest used word in Finnish is "lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikko aliupseerioppilas" (had to put a space in there, blogger didn't like the long word), which was an actual military title in Finnish army. roughly translated to "airplane jet turbine engine auxiliary mechanic non-commissioned officer student". And wwords with many vowels, here's an example: "hääyöaieuutinen", which means something like "wedding night intention news".

There's also a totally reasonable dialect with just two words:
Person 1: Kokoo koko kokko!
Person 2: Koko kokkoko?
Person 1: Koko kokko!

It's about assembling a "midsummer pyre", which is just a huge bonfire.

Noddy330 said...

"uncomplimentary" - the vowels appear in reverse alphabetical order.

Noddy330 said...

wise man and wise guy are opposites?

Do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?

If pro is the opposite of con, is progress the opposite of congress?