When I Was Having That Alphabet Soup, I Never Thought That It Would Pay Off.*

April 30, 2010

Why is the alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song? The guy who wrote that song wrote everything.
• Stephen Wright

I colllect alphabet books. It might seem as though they would be similar, but they are actually extremely varied. Playing with the twenty-six letters that form words in English provides countless brainplay opportunities:


Oh, fudge, these alphabetical things almost always fall apart at xyz, don’t they? But that’s the advantage of doing this sort of thing. I know now, although I cannot currently use it, that xanthous means having yellow or red hair and that a xebec is a small three-masted pirate ship. I am equally fascinated to learn that when I am gracious to my visitors, my hospitality is xenial.

But perhaps my favorite x word is xenodochelonology or the love of hotels. Not one I’d like to encounter in a spelling bee. I’ll be staying at a motel tonight. I wonder if that counts and if I can work this into the conversation when I leave: “Thanks for your graciousness and for the clean sheets and tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner. They have increased my xendochelonology!”

And while I’m thanking people or things, thanks to http://www.phrontistery.info for their exceedingly thorough lists. This site is a real boon for Scrabble® players too. A phrontistery is a place of learning; I work at one and didn’t even know it.

“lol this isent me cheating on my HomeWork or anything this is me challenging the minds of young Yahoo people” someone on Yahoo Answers claims about a query looking for synonyms to replace boring words. I say good for them and good for you if you use online tools to improve your writing. If I were being really diligent this morning, I’d hunt for replacements for those two goods.

I love dictionaries—it’s relaxing to page through them, but you probably have to be a logophile to want to do this. Hunting for specific words online is more likely to help most folks improve their vocabulary.

And so it goes. I have not nagged about vocabulary for weeks. Weeks! Have you been adding five new words to your vocabulary each week? Five new words a month? One new word since last I wrote about it? It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf—or turn to a new page in the dictionary—and begin.

Come on—make me happy. Learn five new words this week and use them in your everyday conversation. Just imagine the self-satisfaction that will accompany this feat! You’ll feel a humongous sense of pride and accomplishment! Small children will throw rose petals at your feet and a chorus of chanting cartwheelers will follow you about, praising your name! Perhaps.

We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
• Booker T. Washington

* Vanna White is the abecedarian whom we can credit with the title quotation.



  1. Dee Coader
    This actually came to me after trying to decipher first grade writing. My two recent favorites are apljeos (apple juice) and wonsapnatim (once upon a time).

  2. I’m glad to know that other people like to read the dictionary just for fun. My husband and I have a huge dictionary from the 40’s. We love to look through it and read the definitions. It is interesting to see just how many subtle changes there have been to the uses of words. I also like to read the thesaurus. I have my students look up words just in the thesaurus so that they will know that there are more than one way to get their meaning out to the reader. I feel that this will widen their ability to express themselves. I hope it will also foster the love of writing.
    Speaking of funny words,—
    I was talking to a friend the other day and was telling them that if I had a restaurant I would name it “L-m-n-o”. You know, the sound when all those letters are run into each other. I would serve ABC soup and that cereal that had ABC’s in it. Ha Ha. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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