ELEMENTAL, MY DEAR WATSON
by Ross Eckler
Word Ways, 1999
There are 103 chemical elements which can be identified by one-letter or two-letter abbreviations, listed below:
B C F H I K N O P S U V W Y
Ac Ag Al Am Ar As At Au Ba Be Bi Bk Br Ca Cd Ce Cf Cl Cm Co Cr
Cs Cu Dy Er Es Eu Fe Fm Fr Ga Gd Ge He Hf Hg Ho Ir In Kr La Li
Lr Lu Md Mg Mn Mo Na Nb Nd Ne Ni No Np Os Pa Pb Pd Pm Po Pr Pt
Pu Ra Rb Re Rh Rn Ru Sb Sc Se Si Sm Sn Sr Ta Tb Tc Te Th Ti Tl
Tm Xe Yb Zn Zr
Dmitri Borgmann was the first logologist to suggest that words can be constructed out of these abbreviations, listing FeLuCCaS, PaRaNoIAcS and CHAmBErLaInS in the Nov 1974 Word Ways. (In the Feb 1975 Colloquy, Mary Youngquist said that chemists had been playing with such words for a "long time". Is there any mention of this in chemical literature?) Since then, elemental words have been mentioned rarely in Word Ways; this article attempts to summarize the field.
The longest-known elemental word was presented by Mike Keith in the Nov 1999 Kickshaws: SUPERCoNdUCTiVITiES (19 letters). [Chris Cole subsequently bettered this with HYPoThAlAmICoHYPoPHYSeAIS (25 letters), given as an example under hypothalamico- in Webster's Third.] Ralph Beaman noted the charming word TiNTiNNaBULaTiON (16 letters). If no element can be reused, Mike Keith proposed IrReSPONSiBILiTiEs (18 letters). Ed Wolpow proposed PSYCHO-PANNYCHY as an elemental word using only single-letter abbreviations, in the Nov 1979 Word Ways. What is the longest word using only two-letter abbreviations? [Richard Sabey suggested PrAcTiCaLiTiEs, or PaRaCrOsTiCs if no elements are repeated.]
Eight chemical elements are elemental words: SiLiCON, NeON, CoPPEr, AsTaTiNe, ArSeNiC, TiN, XeNoN and CaRbON. Of these, arsenic, tin, copper and carbon do not use their own abbreviations.
Elemental words are often expressible in more than one way. Among three-letter words, SIN, SiN, SIn and TIN, TIn, TiN have three representations. The shortest word expressible in four ways is COHO, COHo, CoHO, CoHo, and the shortest expressible in five is SINeS, SiNeS, SInEs, SINEs, SiNEs. (Dave Morice notes that the theoretical maximum for a five-letter word is eight, achieved by the name HOSNI Mubarak.)
However, there is a seven-letter elemental word which can be written in thirteen different ways: COSINeS, CoSINeS, CoSiNeS, COsINeS, COSiNeS, COSInES, CoSInEs, COsInEs, COSINEs, CoSINEs, CoSiNEs, COsINEs and COSiNEs. No doubt there exists some elemental word that can be written in many more ways than thirteen!
A difficult but solvable challenge is to find elemental words incorporating all 103 different elements. The most recalcitrant ones:
CD SYNeCdOCHe, CF FLiCfLaC, CM LaCmUS, CS TiCs
HF PAtHfINdEr, HG FLaSHgUN
MD CIrCuMdUCTiON, MG CIrCuMgYRaTiON, MN CaLuMnY
NB BONbON, NP NoNpSYCHIC
PB HiPbONe, PD SLaPdAsH, PM CHIPmUNK, PT HeLiCoPtEr
RB CaRbON, RH CaRhOP, RN FeRn
SB GaSbAg, SR PReSSrUN
TB SeTbAcK, TC CaTcH, TL CuTlAsS, TM LiTmUS
ZN BiZnAgAs, ZR ArZrUNiTe
Finally, one can use elemental words to rewrite "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (AGNUS is "lamb" in Latin):
ONe TiNY AgNUS SHe NoW OWNS
(SNOW-WHITe IS HEr CoAt).
WHeN HEr LaDy IS NeArBY,
AgNUS STaYS, I NoTe.
In ClAsS ONe MoRn SHe TaKEs HEr PLaCe;
TeAcHEr CrIEs "SHoO! RUN!"
HeAr THoSe LaSSiEs ScReAm "HoW CuTe!
ThIS AgNUS--PuRe FUN!"
Or, change lines 6-8 to provide a counterpart for line 4:
STeRn LaW: No AgNUS HeRe.
BOYS PLuS LaSSiEs ScReAm "HoW CuTe!"
SUCH NoISY FUN, I FeAr.
Elemental prose is decidedly harder to write than E-less prose; 30 words of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" have no E's, but only 12 are elemental. Sixteen out of 34 (47 per cent) two-letter words in Webster's 1974 Pocket Dictionary are elemental, as are 166 out of 539 (31 per cent) three-letter ones. As words get longer, elemental words become increasingly rare.
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