Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 578

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Oxford English Dictionary Considering New, Same-Sex Inclusive Definition of 'Marriage'
The Huffington Post

Print Dead At 1,803
The Onion

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: This week's theme: Yours to discover

Typically I announce a week's theme at the beginning of the week. Last week was a bit different -- you got to figure out how the week's words were selected. And the answer is: Those five words (olid, sook, zymic, meed, pica) had letters in reverse alphabetical order.

The Winners
First one to send the correct answer: Brian Chen of Hsinchu, Taiwan (brian.chxn gmail.com)
A reader randomly selected from all correct answers: Monique Reed of College Station, Texas (monique bio.tamu.edu)

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all for participating. Winners will receive their choice of a copy of any of my books, a copy of the word game One Up!, or the T-shirt "AWAD to the wise is sufficient".

Words with letters in reverse alphabetical order are not very common in the English language. Only about three out of a thousand words fulfill this property, but thanks to your emails I have now learned about 495829343 different ways of saying "reverse alphabetical order". Read on for a day-by-day report.

Day One: olid

Most common guess: Words that relate to the senses.
Most creative: You will remove one letter each day from Solid to produce a word each time: Solid Olid Lid Id I.
Most obvious: Words ending in "olid".
Trying too hard: Words composed of the letters in the string Oldmatriedtheyuppiesontoo without replacement of letters. I.e., words this week together will have a sum total of 25 letters, with a one-to-one mapping between letters in Oldmatriedtheyuppiesontoo and the set of words this week.
Most unusual way of saying "reverse alphabetical order": This week's theme is words whose letters are in alpha order starting from the end of the alphabet.

Day Two: olid, sook

Most obvious: Four-letter words.
Most common: Insults.
Most creative: Stinky (Monday) crybaby (Tuesday), Anu? I thought AWAD would be above this, but this week's theme is... ROYAL BABY.
Most convoluted way of saying it: This week's words all have the feature that for every pair of letters X and Y in the word, if X appears later in the word than Y, then Y appears in the alphabet no earlier than X. (Thus, 'o' is later in the alphabet than 'l', which is later than 'i', which is later than 'd'. Similarly, 's' > 'o' = 'o' > 'k'.)

Day Three: olid, sook, zymic

Most oblivious: Four-letter words.
Most ... : Looks like it's reverse alphabetical order! (That is, the letters within each word appear in reverse alphabetical order). I should have guessed even sooner, since I was explaining this "yours to discover" theme idea to my fiancee, and used the earlier alphabetical-order theme as an example.
Most creative: Thus far, this week's words look like lyrics to be sung at the end of a seder.

Day Four: olid, sook, zymic, meed

Most oblivious: Each word lends its first letter to form the beginning of the next word in the series.
Most creative: Do this week's words tell the story of a foul-smelling child, who must be gagging at the chore. At the end of the story is happy because the child was clean and the governess was paid.
Almost got it: Could it be that the consonants in these words all appear in REVERSE alphabetical order?
Most convoluted way of saying it: Could it be that the order of the letters in the words never moves towards the end of the alphabet? That is, each subsequent letter is always either the same or a letter that appears earlier in the alphabet. If I number the alphabet 1 - 26, OLID = 15-11-9-4; SOOK = 19-15-15-11; ZYMIC = 26-25-13-9.

Day Five: olid, sook, zymic, meed, pica

By Anne Wood
Most common: Each word has two vowels.
Most creative: They are connected crossword words.
Most stretching it: Unsavoury Food.
Most stretching it too: All of this week's words are also font names.
Most stretching it three: Almost all of the words have four letters
Most still-not-sure: All the words so far this week have their letters in reverse alphabetical order. Same is true for "Old Ma tried, the yuppie son too." Is that it, is there more -- reverse alphabetical plus something else -- or is it just a heckuva coincidence?
Most lawyerly way of putting it: The letters in all five words may be found in order by traversing the alphabet backwards, allowing double letters ("oo" and "ee") to not be a violation of the rule.
Most unusual way of putting it: If you take the letters of any of this week's words and sort them in reverse alphabetical order, you get the same word.
Most unusual way of putting it too: Each word is composed of letters that are in ascending order in the alphabet, beginning with "z".

Miscellaneous comments:

Ha! I see. Tried to use... uh-uh. So: Each word's letters must maintain a reversed alphabetical order.
-Jennifer Perrine, Des Moines, Iowa (jperrine gmail.com)

Can you coin a word for this? Is there one already? My guess: ztoaic (Z-to-A-ic).
-Anshu N Jain, Gurgaon, India (jainanshu00 yahoo.com)

Love the feature -- and love the fact that you have a random winner in a pattern-recognition contest!
-Mike Vargo, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (mikevargo aol.com)

From: John Felix (jfelixb aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--olid

A happy synchronicity: today's word arrives in my inbox along with a link from a friend to the live cam showing the blooming of the Titan arum or corpse plant at the US Botanical Garden. Olid indeed!

John Felix, Jupiter, Florida

From: Yitzhak Dar (yitzhakdar gmail.com)
Subject: Olid

Olid, from the Latin olere, reminds us of the famous Roman saying Pecunia non olet. It relates to the "Urine Tax' imposed on the Romans, and means "Money does not stink".

Yitzhak Dar, Haifa, Israel

From: Kate Kelly (kate.kelly cbo.gov)
Subject: sook

In the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland, sook is a female crab. Some people say it's a diminutive form of Susan. Male crabs are called jimmies.

Kate Kelly, Riverdale, Maryland

From: Esther Friend (estherfriend copper.net)
Subject: sook

The word "sook" is a word which I never heard until I went out on a crab-fisherman's boat on the Chesapeake Bay. "Sook" was usually accompanied with the adjective "damned" because it was a female crab which by law had to be returned to the Bay.

Esther Friend, Lewes, Delaware

From: Rosemary Heher (rpheher aol.com)
Subject: Sook

In the region of the country known as the Chesapeake Bay (the Delmarva Peninsula), a sook is also a female blue crab, the opposite gender of a male crab known as a jimmy. Many crab house restaurants in the area identify rest rooms with the names: Sooks (for the Ladies' Room) and Jimmies (for the Men's Room).

Rosemary Heher, Salisbury, Maryland

From: Helen Hileman (hhileman woh.rr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sook

I have been in the process of writing my memoirs and was telling about my early childhood days when we would have to call the cows from the field for milking time. The calling went like this: "Sook cows, sook cows, sook, sook, sook". Then if they didn't hear us because to which way the wind was blowing, we would have to walk to the field to bring the cows to the milk stable. We soon learned to wear shoes as it wasn't a pleasant feeling to have the fresh manure squeeze through your toes, even though it was a warm feeling on those frosty mornings. UGH!

Helen Hileman, Eaton, Ohio

From: Gary Hattery (ghattery emc-sq.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sook

I am wondering if Truman Capote, in his short stories, A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor, purposely used Miss Sook as the name of Buddy, the narrator's best friend. They are two of my favorite fables and wonderfully phrased stories; Miss Sook was a kind, gentle, timid soul. Capote's vocabulary and ability to capture essence using only words leads me to believe that his choice of "Sook" was not serendipitous. I now have an even keener appreciation of his skill as a writer.

Gary Hattery, Columbus, Ohio

From: Don Stucky (don-stucky2 cherokee.org)
Subject: pica

Pica is often a symptom of iron deficiency, of which pregnant women are prone. In the past, laundry starch was commonly ingested (when it came in bar form), but now this is rare. Ice is probably the most common nowadays, as it is freely available. Tiny bits of tissue (Kleenex) is another common habit. Patients are often embarrassed to mention the practice until asked, and then are honestly forthcoming, often beginning with,"Well, as a matter of fact..." and are reassured to note that they are not so crazy after all.

Don Stucky, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

From: Lucas Veloso (agentehb yahoo.com.br)
Subject: Pica

Besides all you said, pica is also a name for the male organ in Portuguese, in vulgar language, that is. Just thought you should know.

Lucas Veloso, Brazil, Belo Horizonte

From: Toby Loobenfeld (tobyloobenfeld gmail.com)
Subject: Questionable quotation

You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth. -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

This was your quotation for the word sconce last week. I shared this with a colleague last week and felt foolish when he told me it was wrongly attributed. Do you have any source for this quotation?

Toby Loobenfeld, Bethesda, Maryland

The quotation doesn't sound like Mencken -- he was never into inspirational and motivational writing -- and it's not from him. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. We've removed it from our online archives. Instead, here's something more like the cynical, anti-moralizing, good-hearted Mencken:

"If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl." -H.L. Mencken; The Smart Set magazine; Dec 1921.

-Anu Garg

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment. -Hart Crane, poet (1899-1932)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2023 Wordsmith