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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a mechanical device for producing letters; one of the longest words spelled using the top row of a qwerty keyboard

If you follow HH on Instagram, you’ll have spotted this fact the other day:

As word trivia go, the fact that 10-letter typewriter is one of the longest top-row “typewriter words” in the dictionary is a fairly well known one. Less well known are the other examples we included in that post: repertoire, perpetuity and proprietor are all other 10-letter, top-row qwerty words, as for that matter are the likes of prerequire, repetitory (an old form of repetitious), pepperwort (another name for dittany), pewterwort (the rough-horsetail plant), and peppertree (a type of flowering trees in the genus Schinus).

Coming in a close second are 9-letter qwerty words like etiquette, eyepopper, pirouette, potpourri, preterite, prototype, puppeteer and repertory, while in bronze medal position are a clutch of lovely words like tittuppy (a nineteenth century word meaning “unsteady,” or “rocking back and forth”), roturier (a person of low social rank), peetweet (a local name for the American spotted sandpiper), peripety (a Jungian term for the third stage of a dream, where its storyline finally culminates), roquette (an old name for rocket, the salad vegetable arugula), and peripter (a building surrounded by a single row of columns)—as well as much more familiar fare like tripwire, twittery, puppetry, reporter, tippytoe, torturer and equipper.

This all raises a few intriguing questions, though. Like, what about hyphens? Well, although not strictly on the top row of letters on a keyboard, if you include punctuation in the qwerty list then beating all other words is the 12-letter teeter-totter, another name for a child’s seesaw.

But what about other keyboard layouts? The qwerty keyboard isn’t universal of course; a qwertz layout, replacing the Y with a Z, is common in much of continental Europe and even finds its way into some North American offices (much to the annoyance of touch-typists unfamiliar with its layout).

So change out qwerty for qwertz, and you can add prioritize to your list of 10-letter typewriter words (and get rid of typewriter at the same time), with other Z-listers like quizzer, ritzier, tweezer, woozier and terrorize coming in a close second, along with notable obscurables like wurtzite (a sulphide of zinc), tzitzit (another name for a tsitsith, a Jewish ceremonial tassel), and epizoite (an animal that lives on but does not parasitize a host animal).

But what about the other rows of keys? Well, largely because the top row of a qwerty keyboard hogs four of the five vowels (as well as Y), the middle and bottom rows aren’t quite so fruitful. The best the centre row, ASDFGHJKL, can muster up is the 9-letter haggadahs—the anglicized plural of haggadah, the name of a Jewish text that lays out the ground rules for the Passover seder (the proper Hebrew plural of which is haggadoth).

Coming in a close second are the likes of alfalfas, halakahs (a term from Jewish law), and halalahs, a plural form and alternative spelling of halala, a coin word 1 one-hundredth of a Saudi Arabian rial.

The bottom row, ZXCVBNM, is a more desolate landscape. With no vowels to go on (and Z, X and V taking up three of its seven slots), the best it can manage is onomatopoeic forms like zzz and mmm. Even on a qwertz layout, in which that troublesome Z is swapped for the semivowel Y, the 2-letter words by and my are only beaten by the 3-letter myc, an oncological term for a family of genes that can facilitates the growth of certain cancers (and which takes its name from a clipped form of myelocytomatosis).

But its worth pointing out that those bottom-row onomatopoeias can be run to comically and emphatically preposterous lengths. Ultimately, there’s an argument for saying that zzzzzzzzzzzz, perhaps meaning “impossibly boring”, or mmmmmmmmmmmm, meaning “utterly delicious”, is the longest of any of these typewriter words. So maybe that bottom row isn’t quite so desolate after all.

A close up of some old style qwerty typewriter keyboard

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