What Is an Isogram (Or Word Play)?

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In morphology and verbal play, an isogram is a word with no repeating letters (such as ambidextrously) or, more broadly, a word in which the letters occur an equal number of times. It is also known as a non-pattern word.

The term isogram (derived from two Greek words meaning "equal" and "letter") was coined by Dmitri Borgmann in Language on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical Oddities (Scribner, 1965).

First-Order, Second-Order, and Third-Order Isograms

"In a first-order isogram, each letter appears just once: dialogue is an example. In a second-order isogram, each letter appears twice: deed is an example. Longer examples are hard to find: they include Vivienne, Caucasus, intestines, and (important for a phonetician to know this) bilabial. In a third-order isogram, each letter appears three times. These are very rare, unusual words such as deeded ('conveyed by deed'), sestettes (a variant spelling of sextets), and geggee ('victim of a hoax'). I don't know of any fourth-order isograms...

"The really interesting question is: which is the longest isogrammatic place-name in English?

"As far as I know — and that's an important qualification — it is a small village in Worcestershire, west of Evesham: Bricklehampton. Its 14 letters, with no spaces, make it the longest such name in the language." (David Crystal, By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English. Overlook, 2008)

The Longest Nonpattern Word

"The longest nonpattern word ever devised utilizes 23 of the 26 letters of our alphabet: PUBVEXINGFJORD-SCHMALTZY, signifying 'as if in the manner of the extreme sentimentalism generated in some individuals by the sight of a majestic fjord, which sentimentalism is annoying to the clientele of an English inn.' This word is also an example of going to the uttermost limit in the way of verbal creativeness." (Dmitri Borgmann, Language on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical Oddities. Scribner, 1965)

The Longest Isogram in the Dictionary

"UNCOPYRIGHTABLE [is] the longest isogram in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, the source used in Scrabble for long words. Borgmann, who searched the dictionary manually in his quest to manipulate the language, coined UNCOPYRIGHTABLE by placing the prefix UN- before the dictionary-sanctioned COPYRIGHTABLE." (Stefan Fatsis, Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players. Houghton-Mifflin, 2001)

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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Isogram (Or Word Play)?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/isogram-word-play-term-1691199. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). What Is an Isogram (Or Word Play)? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/isogram-word-play-term-1691199 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Isogram (Or Word Play)?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/isogram-word-play-term-1691199 (accessed March 31, 2023).