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AWADmail Issue 12

May 24, 1999

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

    This compilation is based on the puzzler sent during May 17-23, 1999. Check out the archive for May 1999 to try it yourself.

It is human nature to find patterns in things where there might be none, whether it is in the shape of clouds or in the arrangement of sand, in a chain of events or in the digits of pi. Or in a list of words.

Last week's challenge to recognize the common theme in that week's words generated an avalanche (e-valanche?) of email. Eager word-sleuths didn't want to wait for more clues and within moments of the first word's posting, random answers such as "words of seven letters" started pouring in.

One reader who didn't want to take any chances on missing fame, sent a list of eight possible themes (that's after seeing only the first two words). Another dispatched an improbable thesis several pages long in an effort to tie together the words in a common theme.

One enterprising lifeform boldly guessed what no one had guessed before: Star Trek, without concerning itself with such earthly matters as the reasoning for that assertion. A couple other conjectures about Star Wars as the possible theme were also made, again with no hint of an explanation, however tenuous, to justify that conclusion.

Here is a sampling of a few other shots made in the dark: "cryptozoology," "cryogenics," "biology," "Greg Louganis," "mummy," "Roman bath," "something to do with the interaction of some thing with a neighboring thing." As one can imagine, the proofs of these assertions were left as an exercise for the reader.

Sandi Simon (sandi_simonATgwinnett.k12.ga.us) submitted this collective wisdom, "My third grade class believes that this week's theme is - things that are flat." Three cheers for Ms. Simon's class! At least their answer was more plausible than the ones sent in by many adults.

Won Kim (won_k_kimAThotmail.com) offered, "Words that are never used in everyday conversation." Well, going by the feedback I receive from some of the people who sign-off I guess one could make a case for this theme for almost every week.

As the end of the week approached a few exasperated souls suspected the theme was that there was no theme. David Sader (hamradioextraATjuno.com) opined, "It appears to me that the theme for this week is `words that have absolutely nothing in common with each other whatsoever' other than sharing the same language of course, at least so far anyway." Tiffany Elfstrum (tiffany.elfstrum1AThartfordlife.com) echoed, "What happens when one closes one's eyes and points at random pages in a dictionary." And Sloan Hayes (midiotATmindspring.com) added, "After careful consideration, I believe this week's theme to be: `Miscellaneous words.'"

Peter Hassett (peterhassettATwebtv.net) wondered, "(Y)ou could have simply selected the words randomly, waiting to see what possible theme your readers could devise (probably too devious, but always deniable!)." Hey, that's an idea! As it turned out, a few readers did come up with some very interesting possibilities for the theme. Cheryl (csirnaATpo10.mit.edu) inferred, "Guess 1: All the words have vowels that are repeated, but are pronounced differently. Guess 2: If vowels represent face cards, then the words would be pretty good poker hands." Terry Sladek (ssladekATtenet.edu) came up with, "1. Primary guess on unifying theme: No day's word contains any of the letters contained in the previous day's word. 2. Secondary guess: Words for days 1,3,5, and 7 each contain an `eater' (shuffled around, of `course'). Words for days 2, 4, and 6 each contain an 'm,' and an 'n.'"

Thomas Murphy (drkhorseATmosquitonet.com) found an unintended pay-off from the puzzler, "Trying to guess the theme of the week has been a great facilitator for learning the words. You MUST do this every week. I still haven't figured out the theme of this week, but I can't get these three words out of my mind, locking them in much more thoroughly than just reading and deleting."

After getting such a motley collection of suggestions for a possible theme for the words, I'm surprised no one tried to correlate last week's words to the ups and downs of the stock-market.

Of course, there WAS a pattern in those seemingly random words. All of last week's words can be typed on a standard qwerty keyboard using only one hand - either left or right. Try it. For the benefit of those who joined AWAD later in the week, the words were: tessera, hypolimnion, decerebrate, homonym, extravasate, minim, and reverberate.

Dean Hedman (webmasterATsrb-intl.com) won his claim to fame by being the first to correctly identify the theme. As his AWArD, Dean's keyboard gets a lifetime supply of the English alphabet. The first runner up is Beth Minton (bethATseas.smu.edu), and second runner up is Michael Nichols (michael.nicholsATsap-ag.de).

There were over 900 replies with suggestions for possible themes. Of those, 24 were correct. The most often suggested guess was: parts of the whole. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who joined in the fun.
-Anu Garg


If a homological adjective is one that is true of itself, e.g., "polysyllabic", and a heterological adjective is one which is not true of itself, e.g., "bisyllabic", then what about "heterological?" Is it heterological or not? -Grelling's Paradox

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