- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) a word that can be phonetically expressed as a string of letters, like “O-D-S” for odious
Facts about wordplay always go well on HH, and today was by no means an exception. So, with more than 2,000 of you enjoying the fact, here’s a bit more about grammagrams.
As we explained over on Twitter, a grammagram is a word that can be “expressed phonetically” (i.e. pronounced) as a string of single letters—like odious (O-D-S), devious (D-V-S) and expediency (X-P-D-N-C-Y). (Alas words like deejay and emcee don’t count here; they’ve been created in reverse, coined from acronyms, DJ and MC, and so are properly known as initialisms.)
At 10 letters, expediency is actually one of the longest known grammagrams in the English language. Excellency (X-L-N-C) equals its record (though requires two fewer “letters” to spell it), while obediency (O-B-D-N-C) comes in a close second with 9 letters. Other notable examples include the likes of anemone (N-M-N-E), escapee (S-K-P) and Arcadian (R-K-D-N).
Lengthy examples like these are quire rare, but grammagrams themselves are by no means scarce. At the shorter end of the scale, words as familiar as any (N-E), icy (I-C), ivy (I-V), arty (R-T), envy (N-V), seal (C-L, as well as zeal, Z-L, if you’re American), seedy (C-D), beady (B-D), empty (M-T, give or take), cutie (Q-T) and even opium (O-P-M) all make the list. While a not-used-quite-so-often list would include more obscure offerings like effendi (F-N-D, an Arabian title of respect or nobility), and kewpie (Q-P, a type of Japanese doll).
Grammagrams, perhaps understandably, are frequently called upon by setters of cryptic crosswords and rebus puzzles, as well as writers of comedy skits—as in British comedy duo The Two Ronnies’ extraordinary sketch, “Swedish Made Simple”:
They’re also frequently tools of the trade used by the most inventive of word-playing poets, as evidenced by HC Dodge’s 1903 poem, “The Farmer”:
The farmer leads no EZ life
The CD sows will rot;
And when at EV rests from strife,
His bones will AK lot.