When determining how ‘the longest word with no vowels’ is defined, competing words are pared down with criteria that include pronunciation, spelling, and commonality in the contemporary English lexis.
Orthographic conventions typically represent vowel sounds with the five vowel symbols a, e, i, o, u, as well as y, which may also be a consonant depending on context. A word, as it is defined, is “the smallest unit of grammar that can stand alone as a complete utterance, separated by spaces in written language and potentially by pauses in speech.”
There are few words in English that don’t have vowels because the vowel sounds are not written with vowel letters or are pronounced without vowel sounds. These include cwtch (a shed or hiding place) and crwth (a Celtic stringed instrument), both uncommon words of Welsh origin where w serves as the symbol for the oo sound. Welsh also gives us the vowel-less 15th-century word twyndyllyngs, meaning ‘twins.’ The more contemporary grrrl, (from the phrase ‘riot girl’) describes a subculture of feminism and punk rock.
Abbreviations, if interpreted as words, are often without vowels, e.g., Mrs., Dr., TV, and nth (as in “to the nth degree”). Interjections and onomatopoeias such as shh, hmm, psst, and brr are also examples of “complete utterances” without a vowel. Spellings such as hmmmmmmmmm can be extended ad infinitum and are excluded from the competition.
If you consider ‘y’ to be an eliminating vowel, and don’t include abbreviations or interjections, then the longest lexical word is tsktsks at seven letters.
If you consider ‘y’ to be a consonant and not a vowel, then rhythms is the longest common English word, also at seven letters. In both of these cases, adding ‘s’ to the end of the word pushes the letter counts past the more common six-letter competitors.
Runners-up are six-letter words and one obscure seven-letter word:
- spryly – An adverb meaning nimbly, agilely or quickly.
- trysts – Often refers to clandestine or secret meetings.
- crypts – Places where dead people are buried.
- myrrhs – The oils and essences used in perfumery derived from a small spiny tree of the same name.
- syzygy – A noun that mostly translates as ‘a pairing of elements or a fusion of parts.’
- glycyls – A term in medicine that can be a noun for the acyl radical of glycine, or an extremely complicated adjective referring to glycinic residues in proteins or polypeptides.
If you enjoyed this post, check out the ancient legacy of crossword puzzles! You might also be interested in the challenge of creating ambigams, pangrams, and palindromes!
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