15 interesting language and literary facts

If you quake at the idea of making small talk for the many holiday parties on your calendar, use this list to help you navigate conversations.


You made it through Thanksgiving without having an awkward conversation about politics or witnessing in-laws have a meltdown over pumpkin pie.

However, the battle isn’t over yet.

It’s December, and for many of us that means navigating a gantlet of holiday office parties, neighborhood get-togethers, hockey team potlucks and more. What is “safe” to talk about?

How about language? Below are 15 little-known facts about the English language that can liven up a dull conversation or steer a volatile interchange into calm waters:

1. The English language has 1,100 different ways to spell its 44 distinct sounds, more than any other language. (Source: Learn English Spelling)

2. You can spell out all the numbers from 1 to 99 without using the letters A, B, C or D.

3. The most commonly used word in written English is “the.” The most commonly used word in spoken English is “I.” (Source: Rinkworks.com)

4. The words “alms,” “amends,” “doldrums,” “ides,” “pants,” “pliers,” “scissors,” “shorts,” “smithereens” and “trousers” have no singular form.

5. Virginia Woolf was the granddaughter of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

6. “You” and “ewe” are pronounced the same, but have no letters in common.

7. Roughly 1,000 new words are added to the Oxford English Dictionary every year.

8. The words “bookkeeper” and “bookkeeping” are the only unhyphenated English words with three consecutive sets of double letters.

9. A palindrome is a word, phrase, or other sequence of characters that reads the same backward or forward, such as, “Never odd or even.”

10. “Sequoia” is the shortest English word containing all five vowels.

11. A tennis injury at age 40 prompted JRR Tolkien to begin writing “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” (Source: “Out With Tennis Injury, Tolkien Wrote Hobbit”)

12. Ninety percent of English text consists of just 1,000 words.

13. The English language contains contranyms—or words that are spelled the same, but have two opposite meanings. Examples include “oversight,” “sanction” and “bolt.”

14. Though you are not likely to come across it in general use, “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” is the longest word in the English language.

15. “Gherkins,” “quartzy,” and “muzjiks” are some of the highest-scoring words in Scrabble.

PR Daily readers, what other language or literary facts can you add to the list? You might help out your colleagues struggling for conversation topics this holiday season.

Laura Hale Brockway is writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her work on PR Daily and at Impertinent Remarks.

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