WordWays — “The Journal of Recreational Linguistics” — has always been for a niche among eccentrics. (I’m a longtime subscriber, but not because I’m eccentric. No, no, just a healthy interest in what those other eccentrics are up to.) But the journal continues to get harder to read thanks to computers.
A typical article treats words as collections of letters and tries to find ones that meet some odd constraint. Typical articles used to be about word pyramids and hyphenated words whose letters immediately before and after the hyphen cover every possible pairing. But now that word lists are computerized, the best of the WordWaysians have to come up with challenges that would not only stump a human but come close to stumping computers. I often can’t figure out what the hell the challenge is.
For example, Simon Norton has an article wondering if all words can be expressed as sumagrams. Here’s the second paragraph:
This is what is called a free abelian group, where the second word derives from the name of the Norwegian mathematician Abel. The elements of this group are sequences of (upper case) letters and antiletters…
Susan Thorpe, who usually has more than one article in an issue, this time looks for words that meet various palindromic and other sequences of letters. For example, nunatakassak has three sequences of palindromic letters. (Nunataks are “points of rock appearing the above the surface of land ice” in Greenland, in case you were wondering.) Olol.iuqui (the Mexican climbing plant, of course) is a tautonymic sequence followed by a palindromic sequence. She lists hundreds of such words.
Some are easier to follow. Eric Iverson, for example, publishes a list of words made only with letters with diagonals in them, from akavit to zanza. He finishes with a list of the longest words without any diagonal letters, starting with bioelectricities. And Darryl Francis lists all 300 Tube stations in London and tries to find something interesting about their names. For example, did you know that Bond Street transadds to deobstruent and sober-tinted? I didn’t!
WordWays continues to run some articles that actually touch on meaning. For example, in the current issue, there’s an article by Will Nediger speculating that Douglas Adams took his fascination with the number 42 from Lewis Carroll. And my son and I particularly enjoyed Fender Tucker’s list of 11 heterograms placed in perfectly ambiguous sentences, such as:
After breaking into the Sherriff of Nottingham’s armory, the flamboyant actor/thief Robin Hood took a bow.
Unfortunately, WordWays has a minimal Web presence — some samples and an opportunity to subscribe. It’s just about tailor-made for living on line where eccentricity is a virtue.