Alphabet soup? Pick a pangram


Photographs by Nikki Dawes

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Watch Your Language Illustration

People who have taken typing classes are familiar with the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

We use the sentence because it contains every letter of the alphabet, giving even your pinkies a workout. Many people know this. But do they know that this kind of sentence is called a pangram? I just learned that. The word comes from the Greek for "all letters."

Other pangrams exist. Those who study such things seem to think that coming up with sentences that contain only 26 letters would be cool. They've only been able to find nonsensical sentences:

Mr. Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx.

Cwm fjord-bank glyphs vext quiz.

But sentences slightly longer are also good for practicing those keystrokes. Here are a couple that I like:

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.

Sixty zippers were quickly picked from the woven jute bag.


The word "unisex" is a puzzle. As an adjective or descriptive term, it means suitable for males and females.

When expectant parents don't know whether they're expecting a boy or girl, they may receive many yellow baby items. Yellow is considered a unisex color for babies.

Normally, "uni" means "one."

Unique. One of a kind.

Unicellular. Having one cell.

Unicorn. A creature with one horn.

Unite. To make one.

Unicycle. A riding device with one wheel.

But unisex means it works for both sexes.

The Oxford Dictionaries website tries to explain this by saying the word "unisex" is new. It wasn't in use until the 1960s and began as an informal word. It's slightly closer to the word "universal," pertaining to all. Well, then, the word "universal" would have worked fine. Those crazy '60s.


Another mysterious creature is the letter "h." This fickle alphabetic unit is sometimes spoken, sometimes silent and sometimes changes the sound of another letter. That's power.

The "h" is spoken in these words:





It's silent in these words:







When "h" is placed after a "p," the sound formed is "f." Who thinks up these things?

The letters "gh" also sometimes sounds like "f," such as in the words "laugh" and "cough."

In the United States, the herb you use for cooking has a silent "h." But the "h" is spoken in the name "Herb." In Britain, the cooking herbs are pronounced with the "h."

I wasn't sure whether it's pronounced in the name "Herb" in Britain because I had never met a British Herb. My British friend William told me the "h" is spoken in that case. Though Eliza Dolittle, with her Cockney accent, likely would call him "erbert."


This week's big word is "acheilous." I found it in a list of words containing the five vowels -- a, e, i, o, u -- in alphabetical order.

This crazy word is pronounced "ay-KI-lus," and it's a rare biological term meaning lacking one or both lips.

Sources: Oxford Dictionaries Oxford Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage, Merriam-Webster, fun-with-words.com, Webster's International Dictionary.

Bernadette Kinlaw is here to hear your grammar pet peeves, your word-usage questions and the punctuation issues that befuddle you. Email her at


ActiveStyle on 07/17/2017

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