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Today's Word



Apr 27, 2015
This week’s theme
Duoliteral words

This week’s words

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with Anu Garg

After a recent appearance of the word duoliteral in A.Word.A.Day, reader Maurice Herson wrote:

Please, please, let’s have a week of duoliteral words, pretty please. I’m sure you can find better ones, but let me start off with id, ex, bi (is this a word now?), do (followed by re, mi, fa, etc. -- no maybe not that one), do (as in do, does, did), go ... If you’ve got a Scrabble buff there, they’ll know lots.

Theoretically, there are 676 (26x26) possibilities for duoliteral words in the English language. Of these, only about 100 are real words. And, of those hundred, maybe five are interesting. Well, that’s all we need for a week, so this week we’ll present five words, each with only two letters.

Another reader has suggested featuring one-letter words, but I’ll give that a pass.



1. A mouth or an orifice. [plural ora]
2. A bone. [plural ossa]

For 1: From Latin os (mouth). Earliest documented use: 1859.
For 2: From Latin os (bone). Earliest documented use: 1400.

It also appears as an abbreviation in many fields, including
Chemistry: Os - symbol for the element osmium
Computing: OS - Operating System
Medicine: OS - left eye (from Latin oculus sinister)
Linguistics: OS - Old Saxon

“Even today, accent suppressants for bands are not uncommon. Robbie Williams doesn’t narrow his os, Aqualungs Matt Hales doesn’t turn his fall into full, and while The Rolling Stones can’t get no satisfaction, they daren’t sing it as their native cant.”
Judy Jarvis; Arctic Monkeys: Neo-Punk Exuberance With an Accent; Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania); Feb 9, 2006.

“Naturally, the students couldn’t resist testing the teachers’ knowledge. ‘You’d better slow down,’ they would tell some unsuspecting pedagogue, ‘or you might fall and break your os.’”
D.L. Stanley; I Hope This Doesn’t Effectuate Your Dudgeon; Atlanta Inquirer (Georgia); Nov 16, 1996.

See more usage examples of os in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation. -Herbert Spencer, philosopher (Apr 27 1820-1903) [See a discussion about the authorship of this quotation here]

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