- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) in wordplay, words containing strings of alphabetically arranged letters
Every so often on HH, a tweet about words containing impressively lengthy strings of consecutive letters of the alphabet will appear. So feedback contains all the letters from A to F. Jasminelike contains the letters IJKLMN. Kleptomania and sportsmanlike both contain KLMNOP. And liverwurst contains an R, an S, a T, a U, a V and a W.
But earlier this week, with Twitter now permitting 280-character tweets, the time had come to cover the entire alphabet:
But all of this raises a couple of questions: what are the longest, and for that matter, the shortest words that can be added to a list like this?
Let’s start with the shortest—or rather, the most economical. As a few comments attached to that tweet pointed out, the four-letter word waxy could be used in place of taxiway as it too contains the consecutive run WXY, but crucially has fewer non-consecutive letters. It’s ultimately a shorter and more economical choice.
If you want to get technical, that means that three out of the four letters in waxy—75% if its length—are consecutive. Are there any words that can up that score? Well, yes there are. And some of them are remarkably familiar.
In fact, there are plenty of words comprised in their entirety from consecutive letters of the alphabet: such 100%-ers include the likes of cab, fed and feed, high, noon, moon, mono, rusts, trusts, struts. Longer examples are harder to find, and involve raiding the more obscure corners of the dictionary: abaca is a hemp-like plant in the banana-tree family native to the Philippines; baced is both an archaic spelling of based and a dialect word meaning “beaten”; bacaba is a type of palm tree; and Zyzzyx is the name of a genus of sandwasp—an everyday word if ever there was one.
As for the longest words that could make a list like this, so far no English dictionary word has been found to contain more than eight consecutive letters. That means the brazen-facedly example from above equals the record (so long as the alphabet is permitted to loop back on itself, YZABCDEF), alongside the likes of propinquities, pre-conquest and quadruplications, all of which contain the uninterrupted chain NOPQRSTU.
Longer strings are certainly possible but often rely on fairly questionable inventions and compound words like right-about-faced (which contains all nine letters from A to I) and quasi-complimentary (which contains everything from L to U). Get either those in the dictionary, and that record will be yours...