Wordplay proves a fruitful area for research

Words, words, words are the bread, butter, salt, pepper, meat and potatoes of a small, US-based magazine called Word Ways that has been coming out four times a year since 1968. Dmitri Borgmann, the founding editor, described it as “the journal of recreational linguistics”. Its essence, in a word: wordplay.

Borgmann’s obituary, in a 1985 issue of Word Ways, says his greatest achievement was to “demonstrate that wordplay is an intellectual discipline in its own right”. Borgmann’s reputation was already such, says the obituary, that Standard Oil of New Jersey had hired him to devise a replacement for its antiquated brand name. ‘Twas Borgmann, they say, who spiffed and twisted old-fashioned “Esso” into modern “Exxon”. (Later issues of Word Ways say that the Esso-into-Exxon story may be rather more complicated.)

The first issue of Word Ways included Borgmann’s The Longest Word in English, in which he traipses along the length of “the 27-letter honorjficajhlitudinitatibus”, “the 28-letter antidisestablishmentarianism”…

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

BONUS (somewhat related): A claim to have built the world’s longest palindromic sentence