Monday, March 27, 2006

March 27: Alphabet Words Day

Today is the birthday of the Father of the X-ray, German physicist William Conrad Rontgen. The first X-ray produced was of his wife’s hand on the evening of November 8, 1895. In 1901, this X-ray visionary was awarded the very first Nobel Prize in Physics. He did not take out patents on his discovery, nor did he want them to be called "Rontgen Rays." Instead, the rays retained the original designation "X" which Rontgen had used because they were previously unknown. More than a century later, Rontgen’s name became immortalized on the Periodic Table of Elements when the element Roentgenium was named for him in 2004.

Learn more about Rontgen at

X-ray is just one of a class of interesting words that begin with a capital letter followed by a hyphen. These words are so specialized that there does not even seem to be a clear word to describe them. The closed designation would be Initial based words; for our purposes, we'll use the term alphabet words.

The term E-mail (formerly electronic mail) is certainly the most controversial of all alphabet words. Debate still rages on the Internet about the correct way to write it. Should it be E-mail, e-mail, or email? Current consensus is towards e-mail.

In honor of the X-ray, let’s return to the X-Files. In what is probably the greatest wordplay book of all time The Word Circus, Richard Lederer notes nine different spellings of Rontgen’s letter -- further evidence that English spelling is a mess!

eks: x-ray
gz: exist
gzh: luxurious
k: except
kris: Xmas
ks: hex
ksh: anxious
z: zylophone
Silent letter: faux pas

Challenge: Alphabet Words A-Z
Grab a good dictionary, and see if you can find at least one alphabet word for each letter in the alphabet.

Quote of the Day: Many a friendship -- long, loyal, and self-sacrificing -- rested at first upon no thicker a foundation than a kind word. --Frederick W. Faber

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