Trivia · Word of the week

Word of the week: aegilops

Aegilops is “an abscess or ulcer of the inner canthus of the eye, especially when involving a lacrimal duct or the lacrimal sac”. It is also “any grass of the southern European genus Aegilops, considered to be the wild ancestor of modern varieties of domestic wheat”. Like many of the definitions in these Word of the Week pieces, both descriptions here come from the Oxford Dictionaries website.

Last year’s piece about conjunctivitis was prompted by my second bout of the condition but I have not been suffering from an aegilops. My interest in this word stems from this fact: it is the longest word in English that has all of its letters in alphabetical order. It is the only such word that contains 8 letters. In recent weeks I have been trying to come up with examples of similar words but couldn’t think of anything longer than 6 letters (abhors, almost). Then I did a search and came across this piece from Buzzfeed which lists aegilops and 11 other words of at least 6 letters. 5 of them (including two 7-letter words) contain repeated letters.

In addition to “abhors” and “almost” the words that do not contain repeated letters are: ghosty (a new one on me), biopsy (never had one, fortunately), chintz (nice) bijoux (good use of the French plural there) and aegilops. The 5 examples that contain repeated letters are: accent, access, effort, beefily and willowy.

This concept of having all the letters in alphabetical order is behind one of my favourite quiz questions: “If you write out every number as a word (one, two, three and so on), which is the first (and only) one to have all of its letters in alphabetical order?” I like this question so much that it was included in my first Trivia piece, here on the Trivia Menu. The answer appears there, and also at the end of this piece. In French there are three numbers between 1 and 10 where this happens (also listed at the end of this post) but there is only one example in English (it’s a 2-digit number, greater than 10). As far as I can see there are no countries, capital cities, US States, Oscar winners or chemical elements which fulfil this criterion. One UK #1 chart act does (Doop) and so do two songs (“Doop”, by Doop, in 1994, and “Ghost” by Ella Henderson in 2014). And that’s it, regarding my most used lists of trivia. If I find any other significant examples (such as Nobel Prize Winners, Poets Laureate or world leaders) I’ll make a note of them here but I don’t expect to.

Finally, the answer to that quiz question above: FORTY is the number in which all the letters appear in alphabetical order. In French it happens with the following numbers: 2 (deux), 5 (cinq) and 10 (dix).




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