• Paul Anthony Jones

“Leave Ellen alone, venom enemy!”

(phr.) one of the most famous perfect word squares in the English language


Of all the tweets over on HH this week, the fact that the sentence “Leave Ellen alone, venom enemy” forms a perfect word square—readable both horizontally and vertically—when written one word atop the other ended the week as the most popular:

HH has tweeted about word squares once before, when a record-setting 9-by-9 grid (of albeit fairly rare words) cropped up on the Twitter feed way back in February:

(And you can read more about that here.)

But the difference with the “Ellen” word square is that the words here form a perfectly readable, if somewhat unusual, sentence.

Readable, or so-called “sentential” word squares like this one are understandably fairly rare in English; indeed this 5-by-5 word square was first published way back in 1859 in an edition of Notes And Queries, and has yet to be beaten on the length of its words.

Other 5-by-5 sentential squares have been constructed over the decades since, of course, but many of these rely on startlingly obscure words: in 1969, wordplay expert JA Lindon came up with the sentence “serac enema, refer ‘Amene Cares’” for instance, which might best be interpreted as implying “for treating people with enemas made from the meltwater of glacial summits, refer to the chapter on Agreeable Treatments in your medicinal textbook.”

Compared to that, frankly Ellen’s “venom enemy” seems perfectly straightforward.

#wordplay

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