Column: ABCs of abecedarians

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Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

At around age 6, I began collecting baseball cards. Almost immediately, I sorted the players on the cards into each of their respective teams and split the teams into American and National Leagues. Among the leagues, I alphabetized the team names beginning with “Angels” and ending with “White Sox.” Within teams, I alphabetized the players by last names.

Early on, I found that combining an interest with a specific cataloging system brought me a massive amount of nerdy joy. You should see my spreadsheet for my vinyl record collection.

I hate to get all alphabetical on you today, but I recently learned a new word that I have to share with you: abecedarian (pronounced “ay-bee-cee-dair-ee-un”). This word has a handful of interesting definitions, and I intend to share them with you from least interesting to most interesting.

Starting with the slightly interesting definition, abecedarian is a noun that means “a person who is a beginner” or “a person who is learning the alphabet.” When my daughter was 3, she was an abecedarian. If I decided to start learning the fine art of chainsaw juggling, I’d be considered an abecedarian at chainsaw juggling. In chainsaw juggling, you don’t get any mulligans.

As an adjective, abecedarian can mean “relating to the alphabet” or “in alphabetical order.” When I started collecting baseball cards, I began to approach life with an abecedarian outlook. As an adjective, abecedarian also can mean “primary, elementary or rudimentary.”

My favorite use of abecedarian comes with abecedarian words. These words are exactly what they sound like — words that are spelled with their letters in alphabetical order. Nothing gets my geek-o-meter going like words whose letters line up alphabetically.

If we want to start out on beginner (or abecedarian) mode, consider the word “ace”; it utilizes three letters in alphabetical order. Jumping up to five-letter abecedarian words, we find words including “glory,” “floor” and adopt.”

Now it’s time for the heavyweight division of abecedarian words. At eight letters long, the word “aegilops” is the longest abecedarian word in English. It refers to a genus of wild grass more commonly known as goat grass. An “aegilops” also is an abscess or ulcer of the inner canthus of the eye. Gross.

At seven letters long, the words “beefily” and “billowy” tie for second place as the longest abecedarian words in the English language.

Drop your new abecedarian knowledge at your next cocktail party or Zoom hangout and you’ll soon find yourself with more friends than Myspace Tom. This kind of party anecdote is sure to get you on the A-list in any social circle.

—Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.


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