Language · Trivia

Letters and syllables

Last week I wrote about compartmentalization, with its 20 letters and 7 syllables. I noted, in this menu piece, that the only other word with 7 syllables that came to mind was homosexuality (13 letters). I’ve discovered another one. It currently features in trailers for various TV and radio programmes being advertised on the BBC: decriminalization (17 letters). It is 50 years since the decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK. The word “heterosexuality” is in the dictionary and has 8 syllables but I have never heard anyone say it, either in day-to-day conversation or on TV or radio. If it is said aloud it might be shortened to 7 syllables anyway (het’rosexuality).

Around 20 years ago someone in dictionary corner on “Countdown” (Geoffrey Durham I think) set a challenge before an ad-break: can you think of a word that has 4 syllables and 7 letters? There are at least 3, though one of them is often pronounced with 3 syllables. The answers appear at the end of this piece in case you want to try working them out for yourself. The other chap in dictionary corner (this was before Susie Dent had the job full-time) said that he knew a word that had 9 letters and only 1 syllable. That appears at the end of this piece too.

Before you get there, consider the word “idea”: 3 syllables and 4 letters, the highest ratio of syllables to letters in any polysyllabic word.

Are you ready for the answers to the challenge above?

First, the 9-letter word with only 1 syllable is “strengths”.

Finally, the words that have 4 syllables and 7 letters are: obesity, ukulele and society. (Society is the one that people often pronounce as 3 or 3½ syllables, unlike Louis Armstrong in “High Society”.)




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