25 April 2010


My 14 Favorite 4-Letter Crossword Words

I do two online crossword puzzles every morning. One is here at USA Today, and the other is here. They're challenging enough puzzles at the Master Skill Level, and almost laughably easy on the Regular Skill Level, but either way, they're a good way to get going in the morning with my mug of coffee and peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

For no other reason than because I can, here then is a list of 14 four-letter words that are used with varying frequency in the 14 crossword puzzles I do each week, ranked according to a complex equation of frequency, beauty, rarity and whim. Perhaps the most pointless HANK RANKS ever.


14: OBOE: We all know what an oboe is. This word doesn't show up in my 14 weekly crossword puzzles all that often, but it's three vowels make it a handy word for the puzzle designers to have in their arsenal.

13: AXON: Axon doesn't show up all that often either, which is kind of a shame. I've always liked this word, such a sturdy companion for dendrite. Dendrite is a very good word, and that's undeniable.

12: OLEO: Oleo is another word for margarine, and I don't allow butter substitutes in my fridge. Still, it's a four-letter word that shows up at least four or six times a week in my puzzles. "My puzzles." That sounds like something a douchy nerd would say. I guess that makes me a butter-eatin' nerdouche™.

10: (tie) IBID, IBIS: The beauty of these two words is apparent. that IBI combination is unique and therefore valuable one that shows up regularly every week. Ibid is short for the Latin word ibidem, which means "in the same place". An ibis is a tropical wading bird.

09: IBEX: An ibex is a kind of wild goat found in the middle east and around the Mediterranean. As a crossword word, all I can say is that letter X isn't used all that often in the puzzles I do regularly.

08: ESSE: Esse means "to be" in Latin. One must sign up for the free trial of Merriam-Webster Online in order to see the entry for this word. I find that funny and sad. The most central, crucial, ESSENTIAL word in our world - the first verb, the last word - and MW Online doesn't let you "see it for free". Esse is also a slang word for "gangsta" in Latino culture, but these puzzles don't use the word that way.

06: (tie) IOTA, MOTE: Tiny amounts and specks of things. Two great words that word great together. Or something.

05: OLIO: Olio is a pretty cool word that I would like to use in my everyday life, but it means hodge-podge, and when one has the circumstance and opportunity to use the word hodge-podge, one is pretty much obligated to use it. Hodge-podge shows up as a crossword word maybe six times a year by my reckoning. See also - collage.

04: ULNA: Ulna is a very boring and ugly-sounding word that is very useful in crossword puzzles, playing the oboe, and maturbating. Fuck ulna, let's move on.

03: TSAR: Tsar is the only four-letter word on this list that has three consonants, so I ranked it #3, natch. Tsar shows up in my daily crossword puzzle about 4 or 5 times a week, and it's popularity is no doubt due to that TS, a letter combo that often happens at the back end of words, but here comes front-loaded for maximum puzzle design flexibility. Of course, here in the United States, we use the czar spelling of this word, but the letter Z often proves to be a bitch to squeeze into a crossword puzzle.

02: AGUE: Ague is a four letter word you've never spoke out loud in your life. You could read that last sentence out loud and change yr life forever, and prove me wrong on yet another fact. Ague basically means a fever, like malaria, according to Merriam-Webster, and often it's crossword clue includes the word flu. Because ague is a four letter word you never spoke out loud until three sentences ago (because it's an awkward, ugly-looking word), it's #2 on this list.

01: OREO: As we all know, Oreo™ is a brand name for a sandwich cookie made by the Nabisco Division of Kraft Foods. Brand names don't show up in crossword puzzles very often, but Oreo™ is the rare exception. Except it isn't a rare crossword word. In fact, if I kept stats, Oreo™ just might be among the two or three most-used words I run across in my 14 weekly puzzles. It probably shows up at least 8-9 times per week. What can I say, we like to eat, and in the world of crosswords, three vowels out of four-letters is delicious.

Hotcha! Hank

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Blogger Unknown said...

Ague? What about gout? Don't even get my wife started on her scrabble favorites - emu qis, za, they go one and on!

Learning to Spell

April 26, 2010 7:12 AM  
Blogger Hank Mohaski said...

Gout doesn't show up very often in the crosswords I do, but it's a swell word.

I haven't played scrabble in at least a decade. I expect this trend to continue.

Learning to fly.

April 29, 2010 11:52 PM  

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