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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Nuts and Bolts: string quiz.

Writing recently about the plant eschscholzia and the astrophysical term syzygy has got me thinking about words where strings of letters come together in surprising ways.

Of course every language will have its own idea of a normal progression of letters (have you heard the story of the Polish man who was asked by an optician if he could read the third line and said read it? I know him!?).

But apart from words obviously pinched from other languages, like eschscholzia (called after Johann Friedrich von Eschscholz, a Russian citizen described in Wikipedia as Baltic German) and syzygy (which is Greek), you can find some odd tangles of letters in quite ordinary words that have been English for a long time.

So: what English word contains the consecutive letters wkw? 






They're easy, aren't they? Well, they are if you know the answers, anyway - and you will if you look at the end of this post.*

All these particular peculiarities happen to be caused by two words having been joined together to make one, though it's not always obvious this had happened: in the word answer, for instance, the coming together of the prefix and- meaning against, or in reply, and some word like swarâ, meaning affirmation or swearing, happened a very long time ago - before the Old English word form of answer, andswaru, came into being. 

I rather like the knobbliness these odd words give to English. I think it makes my native language just eccentric enough to be interesting.

And if that tells us anything about the English character, then that's interesting, too.

Word To Use Today: one that's slightly knobbly, perhaps. 

*There are probably other answers to these, but mine are awkward, answer, worthwhile, loincloth, and sandwich and clergyman. Extra points if you can use all of them in a single sentence.

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