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Archive for November 29th, 2020

Poverty weed in all its glory

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Long-time readers know that as the end of each year approaches I never neglect Baccharis neglecta, a slight tree known most commonly as poverty weed. This year has been no exception. I began photographing poverty weed flowering back in September and turning fluffy in October. One of the nicest late-stage specimens came my way on November 15th on George Bush St. at US 290 in Manor. A brisk wind blew on the Blackland Prairie that morning, and enough bits of fluff had gone airborne to reveal the many little “stars” shown above. You’re free to imagine a kind of softly self-ornamenting native Texas Christmas tree.

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And now for the answer to the question that’s been lingering for two days: what all the following English words have in common beyond the fact that in each of them a vowel letter and a consonant letter alternate.

HIS, SORE, AMEN, PAN, AWE, EMIT, SON, TOWER, HAS, LAX, TOMATO, FAT, SOME, DONOR.

Every pair of adjacent letters is a real word in its own right. For example, the adjacent pairs in TOMATO are TO, OM (as in the yoga chant), MA (meaning mother), AT and TO. In other letter pairings in the sample words, DO, RE, MI, FA, and LA are the names of notes. EN and EM serve as the names of letters and are also printing terms for widths corresponding to those typeset letters. AW is an interjection.

I forget which word it was that first made me realize consecutive pairs of its letters are independent words. Once the notion was in my head, I started playing around to see how many other words I could find with that property. I eventually came up with over 90, though some of those are contained within others, like PIT and TON inside PITON. Words with three or four letters make up the large majority. I found fewer words with five or six letters because the longer a word gets, the likelier it is that at least one adjacent pair will fail to be a word.

In almost all cases a vowel letter and a consonant letter need to alternate because there are hardly any pairs of consonant letters that can stand as real English words. One that does shows up at the beginning of SHOWER, where SH is a conventional spelling of the sound people make for somebody to be quiet; HO and OW are interjections, and ER indicates hesitation in speaking.

If you’re a fan of word puzzles and have nothing more pressing to do with your time, you might hunt for more words that have this property. You could also try it in another language. For example, Spanish HAYAS ‘that you may have’ yields HA ‘it has’; AY ‘ouch,’ YA ‘already,’ and AS ‘ace.’ For a German example, take EIN ‘a, an,’ which gives EI ‘egg’ and IN, the cognate of the same word in English.

Another way of extending the challenge is to find words in which every consecutive triplet of letters forms a word. For example, MANY produces MAN and ANY, while PAYER yields PAY, AYE ‘yes,’ and the informal YER.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 29, 2020 at 4:42 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with ,

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