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Five words with unusual properties

John Murray

English speakers use words so freely that they sometimes barely register the letters that go into forming them. When they do, there are often factors about them that cause surprise.

Here are five words that you may never think of in the same way again once  you learn their secrets:

1. Teeter-totter

This odd word is an alternative name for a seesaw, and is commonly used in North America. Other than being a lot of fun to say though, can you work out what makes it difference from any other word of its length?

You might be able to work it out if you type it, because all of the letters in it can be found on the top row of a keyboard. At 12 letters, it’s the longest word with this property.

If you think the hyphen’s a cheat, there are several 10-letter words that can be typed with just the QWERTYUIOP row. Some of the most common ones are ‘proprietor’, ‘repertoire’ and, interestingly, ‘typewriter’. This leads to the novel quiz question of “name a 10-letter word you can type with just the keys on the top row of a typewriter”. Many will struggle, even though there’s one in the question.

2. Aegilops

A less familiar word, Aegilops is one that every nerdy wordsmith should know. This is a genus of grass-like plant that takes its name from the Greek word for ‘goat’.

Its claim to fame is that all eight of its letters appear in alphabetical order, making it the longest such word. As well as this, ‘spoonfeed’ is one letter longer, and is in perfect reverse alphabetical order.

3. Facetiously

There’s much debate over whether or not Y is a vowel. For the sake of this word, let’s say that it is. The Y in any adverb ending –ly certainly acts as a vowel, in any case.

‘Facetiously’ is the shortest word that contains A, E, I, O, U and Y in alphabetical order. Nothing facetious about that!

4. Strengths

An everyday word, but with uncommon properties, ‘strengths’ is nine letters long, yet is just one syllable. Stranger still, it contains only one vowel, and is the longest word in the English language to achieve this. Yes, we’re still including Y being used as a vowel here.

5. Checkbook

Another Americanism, we would normally write this as ‘chequebook’. Sadly, doing so removes it of an interesting curiosity.

Write the word ‘CHECKBOOK’ in upper case, then hold a mirror horizontally on the bars of the H and E. You will see that the word still reads the same. No other nine-letter word is able to boast horizontal symmetry.

So, next time you use words, take a closer look at their building blocks. They might take you by surprise!

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

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