Love Letters 5: The One and Only

by Chris Hancock

To a cartographer, an isogram is “a line drawn on a map connecting points having the same numerical value of some variable”. A good example would be a “contour line” showing points with the same elevation above sea-level. Now, if that’s got your pulse racing, I suggest you head off to That Map Site (actually, don’t – it doesn’t exist). Nope – this is That Word Site and, if you’re reading this, you’re a wordnerd. And in that case you’ll be far more interested in another definition of isogram – “a word or phrase without a repeating letter”. Funnily enough, there’s another word, heterogram, defined in much the same way, so we could use that. But since heterogram isn’t a heterogram and isogram is an isogram, I think we have a clear winner. Isogram it is.

Of course, it would be easy for me to list many words and be able to say each word was an isogram. In fact, I just did – in the previous sentence, each word was an isogram. But obviously, if I’m going to keep you reading, I’ll have to do better than that.

Clearly, the longer a word is, the more interesting it is if it’s an isogram. I reckon the longest isogram that you might come across in everyday life would be the 14-letter ambidextrously (I did say “might”. It means, of an action or task, “done equally well with either hand”). To get anything longer than that, you’d be dipping into pretty esoteric stuff – the 15-letter dermatoglyphics (“the science dealing with the study of fingerprints”) or the 16-letter uncopyrightables. If you’re going to allow those, why not stretch to the 17-letter subdermatoglyphic (“relating to the area of skin directly below the fingerprint”)? Or just throw reason (and your dictionary) out of the window altogether and marvel at the fanciful 18-letter thumbscrew-japingly coined by uber-wordnerd Dmitri Borgmann for his book Language on Vacation. And speaking of vacations, the committed isogram-lover really should spend his holidays at Bricklehampton in the UK, or – better still – Gumpoldskirchen in Austria.

gumpoldskirchen

Strictly speaking, an isogram just has to have the same number of each letter. Usually it’s one of each – as in the above examples – but there are words with two: for example, intestines and arraigning. There’s even one with three: deeded.

So much for isogram words. When it comes to isogram phrases, my favourites are the following 14-letter examples: turkey sandwich, rhyming couplet and quick on the draw. The longest (uncontrived) example I could find is the splendid 16-letter Guild of Merchants.

But there was one other 14-letter isogram phrase that caught my eye, as it’s the title of a well-known piece of music by George Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue. And that got me thinking about isogrammic pop song titles…

Michael Jackson can start the ball rolling. I don’t think you’ll be impressed with Bad, but how about Earth Song and Black Or White?

The 1961 hit Crazy isn’t that thrilling, but it helps to when you realise that is was sung by Patsy Cline – herself an isogram.

Michael Bublé outdoes Crazy with Crazy Love only to be outdone himself by Beyoncé with Crazy In Love. Let’s face it, in the battle of the B—és, there was only ever going to be one winner.

Madonna managed to have two isogram hits in 1984 alone: Holiday and Lucky Star. Or maybe you’re a fan of the Electric Light Orchestra, who weighed in with Evil Woman and Mr Blue Sky. Then there’s Blondie (another isogram) who gave us Atomic and Sunday Girl.

Honourable mentions for all-time-classic tunes must go to Dionne Warwick for Walk On By, the Beach Boys for I Get Around, David Bowie for Life on Mars, Elton John for Rocket Man, Billy Joel for Uptown Girl and Ben E King for one of the most played records of all time, Stand By Me.

But if we’re looking for the longest isogrammic song title, we have to delve into the murkier waters of relative obscurity. At 14 letters, I found the UK hit Up Rocking Beats by Bomfunk MCs, and The Wamdue Project’s King Of My Castle. But, just edging those out with 15 letters – and the winner of Best Single at this year’s IsoGrammies: it’s the Noisettes with Wild Young Hearts.

If you’ve enjoyed our repertoire of isograms, why not tackle our Isogram Wordsearch? The puzzle is here and the solution is here.

Chris Hancock

About Chris Hancock

Chris Hancock (@cjhancock) is an IT consultant and dictionary enthusiast in the UK. He’s worked in Engineering and Computing since leaving University, all the time hoping that the post of Crossword Editor for “The Guardian” will come up. It hasn’t. Yet.

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72 Comments to “Love Letters 5: The One and Only”

  1. YOU’RE BACK! And with such style!

  2. Yes, Chris! I always love your love letters!

  3. Admit it, you wrote that whole piece just for the isogrammy gag! Totally worth it :-)

  4. Ahh good for my soul.

  5. What a fascinating thing! I’m so intrigued by the patterns in language. Thanks Chris!

  6. I have missed your gorgeous words Chris Hancock!

  7. Lovely to see examples in other languages too. You are always a thrill Chris.

  8. Each time you write something I see another layer of meaning in everything I read!

  9. Those multi letter ones made me smile – Wordnerd gold, you are!

  10. Another to print and keep, a winner!

  11. Always a pleasure reading your insights – and a great gag at the end!

  12. I’m off to make an isogram playlist! Excellent!

  13. When I read your amazing articles I can taste your love for words.

  14. I’m going to do my best to remember this in order to impress people. “Oh yes, an isogram you know!”

  15. So wonderful to have you back Chris, your friends here missed you.

  16. Those song titles are simply marvellous, thank you!

  17. Glad real life spared you long enough, you’re always a treat!

  18. Someone asked about isograms in other languages, they’re prevalent in German and Dutch! And I’ve been to Gumpoldskirchen, if only I’d paid more attention! Do you know, Chris, would u and ü for instance count as unique letters?

  19. A pleasure to read Chris :-)

  20. You should print out an isogrammy and send it to the record label!

  21. Beyoncé wins in every way!

  22. A lovely wordy read for a Friday, cheers!

  23. Welcome back Chris! Love this and you!

  24. Amazing and intriguing as always, and oh so funny your ending!

  25. Bravo Ch*is!

  26. Where *do* you get your genius ideas from? Yay!

  27. You make me fall more in love with words every time. Bless you!

  28. The Love Letters series is inspired! Love you Chris!

  29. Hooray for article/wordsearch combo deals!

  30. Oh what fun! Thank you, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

  31. Hahaha isogrammy hahaha! And what a stunning article, you carry me effortlessly from thought to thought.

  32. Chris it’s such a thrill to have you back. I hope real life isn’t too stressful, we need you and your words!

  33. Three cheers for Chris and isograms and wordsearches!

  34. Wow wow wow, I have so much to learn from you!

  35. Ah so good to have you back :-)

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