Thursday, June 08, 2006


Q. I know that the word facetious contains all the vowels in order with no repetition, but my daughter claims that there are more words like that. Can you help me meet her challenge?

A. I'd be happy to provide some of them. Abstemious (moderate or spare), abstentious (self-denying), acheilous (without a lip), adventious (rare form of adventitious), aerious, (airy), affectious (obs., loving), alpestrious (obs., mountainous), anemious (growing in windy conditions), annelidous (pertaining to a worm), arsenious (containing arsenic), arterious (arterial), arteriosus (prolongation of right ventricle in mammals), caesious (bluish-gray), fracedinous (producing heat through putrefaction), gareisoun (obs., garrison), gravedinous (obs., drowsy), majestious (rare, majesty), materious (obs., material), parecious (proximity of reproductive organs in certain mosses), placentious (obs., complaisant), and tragedious (calamitous) all meet the requirements.

Remember that –y- is sometimes used as a vowel, so if you want to include that letter at the end, simply form the adverbs facetiously, abstemiously, abstentiously, and so forth.

To put your daughter on the defensive, ask her to come up with some words that contain the vowels in reverse order with no repetition. She may get subcontinental (under a continent), unoriental (not oriental), and unoccidental (not of the west), but probably only science majors know about juloidea (insect classification), muroidea (rodent superfamily), muscoidea (the family of two-winged flies), prunoidea (a suborder of radiolarian protozoa), pulmonifera (pulmonata), subhyoidean (beneath the hyoid bone), subpopliteal (recess in the knee), and suoidea (pig classification). And only avid readers of the Oxford English Dictionary will recognize quodlibetal (pert. to a scholastic debate) and duoliteral (consisting of two letters only).

Thank heavens for searchable dictionaries on disk. In the old days, we'd never be able to do a precise search such as this unless we riffled through a dictionary page by page. Even retirees don't have that kind of time.


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