• Paul Anthony Jones


(v.) to feed slowly and deliberately, portion by portion; to infantilize, to pamper

There’s a subset of words that pop up on HH that aren’t particularly interesting in and of themselves, but become much more interesting when looked at in a different way. Forty is the only number name spelled with its letters in alphabetical order, for instance. Sestettes contains every one of its letters precisely three times. NONRePReSeNTaTiONAlISmS can be spelled using chemical symbols. SWIMS reads SWIMS when written upside down (and with a little imagination upside down does the same, so long as you spell it umop apisdn). And then there’s spoonfeed: the longest word in the English language spelled in reverse alphabetical order.

This, of course, raises the question whether there are any other words that can be spelled this way. And, well—there are a few.

At nine letters, spoonfeed sits quite comfortably at the top of the backwards-alphabet list, although it is often hyphenated—as too is its past participle, spoonfed, which would come in a close second with eight letters. If you exclude hyphens, the crown goes to the 8-letter word trollied, with the likes of sniffed, sponged, spoofed, spooked, spooled, trolled and vroomed following it up with seven.

There’s clearly a theme emerging here: all these rely quite heavily on S-initial digraphs, like sp– and sn–; on double letters (oo in particular, thanks to it being roughly in the middle of the alphabet); and on –ed verb endings. The 7-letter wronged bucks two of those trends, at least, but if you’re after a word that fits the bill here but doesn’t look anything like the others, how about Tsoneca (the name of a native American language spoken in Argentina), Zyxomma (a genus of dragonfly), zurla (an East Asian woodwind instrument), zonda (a wind in the pampas grasslands), yttric (describing a substance containing yttrium), or even zumba?

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