RENAMING THE MONTHS
by Ross Eckler
Word Ways, 1985
Most people are familiar wth the dictum that one should only eat oysters in months containing the letter R, even though refrigeration has made this caution unnecessary. The letter R appears in eight consecutive months, September through April, but is absent from the remainder, May through August. Similarly, the letter T appears in August through October only, the letter O in October and November, and the letter S in August and September, but no one seems to have exploited these logological curiosities. The five months February, March, April, August and November contain, respectively, the unique letters F,H,I,G and V.
If one allows rules of this nature to use more than one letter, A and R simultaneously appear in January through April, but in no other month.
Can one select names for the months so that logological rules of this nature can always be constructed? One simple way to do it is provided by a method originally discussed by Dmitri Borgmann in Beyond Language (Scribner's, 1967). In Problem 25 (The Magic Circle), he arranges eight different letters in a circle and proceeds to rearrange each set of adjacent four letters into a word. This technique can be readily extended to twelve letters if one is willing to use six-letter words found in Webster's Second or Third Unabridged. The ring SUTINRGOABED yields the twelve words
sturin truing trigon oaring barong borage
bodega abodes abused busted suited nudist
Any single letter is contained in exactly six consecutive words, and not in the other six; any adjacent letter-pair in the ring (such as SU, UT, TI, etc.) is contained in exactly five consecutive words, and not in the other seven; and so on. If these words are taken as the names of the months, it is evident that any patten can be accommodated, either by a group of one or more letters or by their absence. For example, the oyster rule of R is transformed into the slightly more unwieldy rules "eat oysters only if the month does not contain the letters A,B, and O" or "eat oysters only if the month contains the letters T,U, or I." The simplest rules are those involving the use of exactly six months; as one moves away from this ideal split, more letters must be added. Of course, such rules are least needed when very few or very many months are involved; then it is simpler merely to name the month or two that is excluded or included.
The names given in the above example are not particularly monthlike (imagine a month named nudist!). To enlarge the possibilities, allow repetitions of letters in a word. For example, trigon can be converted to trotting, and busted to stubbed. More generally, add one or more of the 14 unused letters, as in truing to hurting. These tasks are best carried out with the aid of a computer.
Back to Word Ways articles
Back to Word Ways home