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AWADmail Issue 286

December 23, 2007

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages


From: Anu Garg (words wordsmith.org)
Subject: The guess the theme contest

Unlike most weeks in which I declare the theme of the week in advance, last week I invited readers to figure out why I had selected the five words: anthropomorphize, kafkaesque, excursive, dysphagia, and jabberwocky.

The answer is: Noel, as in "No el". Those five words used all the letters of the English alphabet except the letter L.

The first reader to submit the correct answer was Martha Harville (msharville peoplepc.com) of Midlothian, Virginia. She figured it out after just three words. Martha wins an autographed copy of my new book The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words.

This puzzle turned out to be harder than the previous yours-to-discover themes in AWAD. Of more than a thousand readers who submitted answers, only about 50 were correct. Andrew Robinson (akr eircom.net) of Donnybrook, Ireland was the lucky correct entrant randomly selected to receive another copy of the book.

A few readers discovered that those words had all the letters, except L, though they weren't sure why. A few selections:

    Why you chose to exclude or highlight "L", this I do not know. Could it be because "L" is the twelfth letter of the alphabet and this is the twelfth month of the year?
    -Danny Pasion (danny.pasion henryschein.com)

    It's possible that you're turning 50 (Roman numeral L)?
    -Paul Nord (paul.nord valpo.edu)

I'm far from 50, but there was a connection to someone's birthday in last week's theme. The word Noel is from French noël (the Christmas season), from Latin natalis dies (birth day [of Jesus Christ]), from nasci (to be born).

A few readers (who shall remain nameless) claimed -- after seeing all five words -- that those words use all the letters of the alphabet. Here's the letter count:

0: L
1: D F G J M N Q T V W X Z
2: B C U Y
3: H I K P S
4: O R
6: A E

Here are some of the other responses:

    Because you were too busy doing your Holiday shopping, you gave the task to your daughter, who opened the dictionary at random, and pointed at these particular words.
    -Cheryl Edwards (cle lakedalelink.net)

    It seems to me that the minute you tell us the reason you chose the words, then they automatically have something in common. Catch-22, Schrödinger's cat, paradox -- call it what you will, but the puzzle you have assigned seems, well, paradoxical.
    -Glenn Myers (glenn.myers fmr.com)

    Are the words this week descriptions of the guests on Dr. Phil. A recent guest thought her dog was really a person and wanted the dog to appear in her friend's wedding.
    -Roy Steeves (rcsteevesjr comcast.net)

    The five words of this week use up all letters of the alphabet. However, you've missed including 'L' and 'N'. But cheer up -- we all make mistakes.
    -Name removed to protect the mistaken

    My answer to your question is "The five words for this week have nothing in common except that they are words."
    -Wang Jiujiang (moonwang actions-semi.com)

    Each of the five words also has its own domain on the Internet.
    -John Schirle (jds217 juno.com)

    I have no idea what the theme is, but if no one else does, and they don't send in any answers, I have a real good chance of winning your book!
    -Robert Schlein (rgsms sugar-land.oilfield.slb.com)

    That's one L of a difficult puzzle. :-)
    -George Pajari (george pajari.ca)

Some of the answers sent by more than a few readers:

Metamorphosis
Frosty the Snowman
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
Words included in your new book
Terry Pratchett
Alice in Wonderland
The Bush administration
Rabies
The US presidential election

Thanks for playing the puzzle, coming up with creative answers, trying to fit the curve. Joyeux Noel!


What is it: la is the middle, is the beginning, and the end?
Hint: It's no man, according to John Donne.
(No prize for a correct answer today)

This week's theme Yours to discover.

This week's words
anthropomorphize
kafkaesque
dysphagia
excursive
jabberwocky

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