Sometimes, it’s nice to have a quick, interesting fact to call upon. While facts about the weather, the Stranger Things cast, or Elon Musk might appeal to certain audiences, facts about words will make you look smart in front of virtually all audience.
So, here’s a few to start with! Next time someone wonders what the longest word is, where a certain word come from, or struggles to use all their consonants in Scrabble, you’ll be on-hand with your new word-wisdom!
The alphabet – the building blocks of all words. Ever wonder how someone decided how to name the alphabet? Maybe it’s the name of a fancy Latin philosopher or writer?
Turns out it’s way simpler than that! The first two letters of the Greek alphabet are Alpha and Beta. Combine those and you’re there. So, the alphabet is quite simply named after the first two letters in the sequence.
The numerous “ee” sounds
The way we pronounce words is often very different from how they appear when they’re written down. For example, the sound “ee” doesn’t just apply to the double-e that that appears in words like “cheese” or “free”.
In fact, there are seven different spellings of the “ee” sound.
Need a sentence that includes all seven of those to test it out? Try this one:
“He believed Caesar could see people seizing the seas”
X, Y, & Z
There are plenty of words that contain strings of alphabetically sequential letters – but only one if you’re looking to use x, y, and z in that order.
The word? Hydroxyzine.
Hydroxyzine is a type of medicine called an antihistamine – used for, amongst other things, the treatment of itchiness and sneezing that comes when you have an allergic reaction to something.
Just one vowel please!
Need to get rid of some of those consonants when you’re playing Scrabble? Why not play the word “strengths” – it’s the longest word in the English word that contains just one vowel.
Today, it’s seems second nature to use the ‘X’ character to represent a kiss at the end of a message or in a greetings card – but it hasn’t always been this way.
In fact, the first recording instance of ‘X’ as a kiss was a letter sent by Naturalist Gilbert White in 1763. Despite being credited for inventing the most romantic use of the letter X, he sadly never found love and never married.
The word with many meanings
We can all think of words that have a few different meanings – but which words has the most?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s the word ‘set’.
How many can you think of? Maybe there’s the tennis “game, set, and match” meaning, a collection of something, and something you to with cutlery and a table – but how many more?
Well, prepare to be surprised. There are 430 different meanings of the word ‘set’ in the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. If you ever decide that you’d like to consult an unabridged dictionary, you’ll also find that those 430 different meanings are followed by 60,000 words describing them all too!
The most common letter in English
The letter “E” is the most commonly used in the English language. In fact, it accounted for 11.1607% letters in the words included Concise Oxford English dictionary.
8.4966% of the letters in those same words were “A” – a fairly close runner up.
So, if you want to stand the best chance of getting a good start with tomorrow’s Wordle – think of a letter that contains both “A” and “E”.
The least common letter in English
Now we know the most common letters in English – what about the least common?
Well, according to the same study carried out above, the letter “Q” was the least common. It accounts for just 0.1962% of the letters in the Concise Oxford English dictionary.
As such, “Q” is likely to be your least favourite to pull out of the bag when you’re playing Scrabble.
Looking for the shortest possible word that contains the letters “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, “E” and “F”?
That’ll be “feedback” – information about a product or a performance that’s intended to be used as a basis for improvement. Of course, that’s unless you’re a fan of rock music – in which case “feedback” is the screech that happens when the noise of an output is picked up by the input of the same device that created it!
The longest word in a major dictionary
Struggle to think of a word that’s seriously long? If you decide to get clued-up on obscure types of lung disease, you’ll find the longest one possible: “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis”.
Now, technically, this word relates to a type of lung disease – but there’s a little bit of creativity cheating going on here. Turns out it’s technically correct – but it was actually coined in the 1930s by the president of the National Puzzlers League specifically to become the longest word in the English language.
Still, it stands – and at 45 letters long, it’s a tough one to beat.
The longest word in the English language
Hang on a second – didn’t we just discover that “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” was the longest word in English?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. What most of us consider to be a dictionary is actually a ‘concise dictionary’ – meaning many of the less-common or more technical words are skipped over.
To find these words, you’ll need to look at an unabridged dictionary. If you do and you take the considerable time needed to flick to the ‘M’ section, you’ll find the chemical name for ‘Tintin’ – the largest known kind of protein.
The word is made up of the 21 chemicals that combine to make the Tintin protein. The thing is, most of these chemicals appear numerous times in the word. For example, “methionyl” features 337 times in the name – and the chemical “valyl” appears 2,414 times in the chemical composition of the protein – so it also appears 2,414 times in the name.
We won’t make you read it all here – but it starts like this:
Although exact counts seem to vary, the full word is actually a whopping 216,747 letters long. Drop that word into a Microsoft Word document and you’d need 47 pages of A4 paper to print it out in a 12pt typeface! Fancy having a shot at saying it out loud? It’ll take the average person about 2 hours to get through it. Probably best to just say “the chemical name for Tintin!”
We’ve included a fact about the acronym “Tl;dr” at the end of this article because that’s where you’ll usually find it – especially in blog posts.
You probably already know that it stands for “too long; didn’t read” – and often summarizes writing for those short on time.
What you maybe didn’t know is that fact that it’s actually considered an official word in the dictionary! Merriam-Webster added “Tl;dr” to its pages in 2018.