by Jeff Grant
Word Ways, 1982


In Language on Vacation, Dmitri Borgmann states that non-pattern words (words with no letters repeated) such as dermatoglyphics are just a special case of the isogram, in which each letter is used an equal number of times--once, twice, three times, etc. Before looking at words where each letter is used more than once, let us exclude the three classes of words not considered legitimate isograms by Mr. Borgmann: palindromes (terret, gnipping), tautonyms (beriberi, tartar) and words with two or more identical letter groups. As an example of the third class, senescence has the five letter-pairs CC, EE, EE, NN, SS. Thus there are four E's, but only two C's, N's and S's. The longest known word of this type is unprosperousness, in which the letter S unfortunately appears four times. Webster's Second Edition lists the word antianthropomorphism. By analogy with anthropomorphisms given in Webster's Third Edition, the plural form anti-anthropomorphisms can be inferred. This amazing 21-letter specimen has nine different letter-pairs, but, alas, contains three O's.

Having eliminated these three groups of words, we can now begin the search for true isograms. Starting with pair isograms, in which each letter appears twice, we find numerous eight-letter examples. Here are just a few:

A: appearer, appeases, Caucasus, jipijapa, millieme, mononymy, rapparee, Vivienne

B: mesosome, pynepeny, reappear, shammash, shippish, signings, temmate, teisties

The Caucasus is a mountain range between the Black and Caspian Seas given in Webster's New Geographical Dictionary, and Vivienne is a common feminine given name.

The words in group A exhibit no letter pattern; however, those in group B include all four letters used in the first half of the word repeating themselves in a different order in the last half, an interesting phenomenon mentioned in Language on Vacation.

On the ten-letter plane we find the following pair isograms, most of which were noted by Mr. Borgmann in "An Overview of Isograms" in the February 1974 Word Ways:

A: arraigning concisions, insciences, ma'amselles, notionists, Papatoetoe, reproposes, rereigning, retardated, Riverville, Succasunna, tessellata, tetra-paper, tool steels, tromometer, well-wooded

B: horseshoer, intestines, Puce Coupe, slake kales, swing wings

Riverville, Succasunna and Pouce Coupe can be found in the Rand McNally 1972 Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide, swing wings are mentioned in the World Book Dictionary, and Papatoetoe is a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, given in the Times Index-Gazeteer. Slake kales and tessellata are both taken from Webster's Third Edition.

Longer specimens are very elusive. There are a number of thirteen-letter words which would be twelve-letter isograms if one letter could be removed. For example, installations and intersertions both have an unwanted O, and restaurateurs has an extra R. Nevertheless, there are a number of legitimate twelve-letter examples:

A: cancellanses, charactereth, cicadellidae, gradgrindian, happenchance, interinserts, shanghaiings, Transnistria, Tukitukipapa

B: trisectrices

The only ones not listed in Mr. Borgmann's isogram overview are charactereth, as in the Oxford English Dictionary quotation "Religion charactereth itself upon the regenerate soule in innocency" (character V.1.b), and Tukitukipapa, a Maori placename in my home province.

Several contrived pair isograms of twelve letters also deserve a mention:

re-resignings (acts of resigning again)

spherophores (micro-organisms of the genus Spherophorus)

ingrammaring (variant of grammaring, grounding in the rudiments of grammar)

non-oppresser (a nonoppressive ruler)

mis-sentiment (evil or misplaced sentiment (cf. mis-speech)

At the fourteen-letter level there are four logological marvels:

inaccidentated (united with the 'accidents' in reference to transubstantiation)

scintillescent (scintillating feebly)

Taeniodontidae (a family of Lower Eocene edentates)

unsufficiences (states of insufficiency)

Note that Taeniodontidae is a pair isogram of the horseshoer variety, with letters in the first half repeated in the second.

Good coinages of this length include the following:

unconstructors (people who do not construct, or undo the process of construction)

endodontistise (to confer the degree of endodontist on (cf. doctorise)

stumblebumlets (petty stumblebums)

goat-phytophagy (the eating of vegetable matter by goats)

countertrounce (to trounce in retaliation, after being trounced)

pteropteridoid (ptero- + pteridoid, of the nature of a winglike fern)

The only known pair isogram of more than fourteen letters is the French word antiperspirantes. No acceptable English example has yet been discovered, so we are left with the following contrived terms:

16 no pharyngography (no description of the pharynx)

16 antitransversive (not transversive, averse to contradiction, opposed to thwarting anything)

16 telephilosophist (a philosophist whose views are exerted over a distance (cf. telepsychic, a medium whose psychical powers are exerted over a distance)

18 co-praeterpolitical (praterpolitical means "lying outside what is political" so this may be defined as "unitedly praeterpolitical")

24 pseudautohermaphroditism (a superb coinage of uncertain definition, derived from the word pseudhermaphroditism in Webster's Third, proposed by Ralph Beaman)

Surely there must be legitimate pair isograms of more than fourteen letters in some English reference work. Who will be the first to find one?

Next we progress to trio isograms, in which each letter used in the word occurs three times. There are very few examples to be found, and most have only six letters:

deeded (conveyed or transferred by deed)

Essees (Essenes, members of an ancient Jewish sect)

feffee (an early form of feoffee, a trustee invested with a freehold estate in land)

geggee (the victim of a hoax)

seeses (variant of seises, takes possession of)

Two nine-letter trio isograms are known and they were both discovered by Darryl Francis:

sheeshehs (plural of sheesheh, a tobacco pipe similar to a narghile but having a glass

water-vessel, listed in Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary)

sestettes (plural of sestette, a variant spelling of sextet)

Coinages of this length include:

geggesses (female geggers or hoaxers)

moddomdom (a place ruled by moddoms, affectedly refined women)

reprepper (one who prepares again)

tsetseest (most like a tsetse fly)

In Language on Vacation Dmitri Borgmann mentions the coined word intra-trinitarian which consists of 3 A's, 3 I's, 3 N's, 3 R's and 3 T's, as well as an unwanted sixteenth letter, a fourth I. The H-N Supplement of the Oxford English Dictionary lists the remarkable thirteen-letter word monimolimnion, the lower denser non-circulating layer of a meromictic lake. This is very close to being a trio isogram, having 3 I's, 3 M's, 3 N's 3 O's and a surplus L. How can we convert it into a trio isogram? Most dictionaries give 'll as a contraction of shall or will, for example "the Chairman'll be here soon." This contraction can theoretically be added to any noun, so we can add it to monimolimnion, as in the following sentence:

The monimolimnion'll always be found below the chemocline in a meromictic lake

In this way it is possible to get an acceptable, albeit apostrophized, fifteen-letter trio isogram. Incidentally, all the letters in this term are found in a seven-letter span of the alphabet (I to O). Perhaps in the future some long dictionary examples will come to light, but in the meantime we'll have to make do with this.

Unless otherwise stated, words used in this article can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary or Webster's Second Edition, or inferred from words therein.

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