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What’s the best word ending for maximizing the number of single letters that could go before it? I made a list. So far it looks like -at is the winner here, and it’s pretty easy to see why: Bat, Cat, Fat, Hat, Mat, and so on. And those only make up the common ones. Have you ever heard of a “Jat?” Me neither, until fairly recently. But it’s definitely a real word.

In total -at can form words found in the Oxford English Dictionary using 20/26 letters of the alphabet. Abbreviations and proper nouns are excluded, of course.

13 of those letters plus -at form what I would call “common” words. There’s no strict definition here yet, but you can think of them as words that the average educated English-speaker could reasonably define without having to look it up.

In 2nd place is -it, followed closely by -ar in 3rd, -ag in 4th, and -an in 5th (only including the endings I’ve looked up). -it and -ar both make words with exactly 18/26 letters, but since -it has more common word formations – 10 vs -ar’s 9 – I place it above.

I don’t think 3- or 4-letter word endings really have a chance to top the best 2-letter ones, but I’m definitely still looking. 1-letter word endings come close, -o in particular actually forms 18 words with single letter prefixes, but its common word count is so pitiful I didn’t want to include it in my top 5.

The holy grail of this search is to find an ending that can make common words with more than half the letters of the alphabet. I really want to find this for three main reasons:

  1. So I can safely say that there’s a word ending so common in English that most letters make words with it (Do you realize how funny that sounds?), and I don’t think it’s enough to just have a bunch of really obscure words making up that listing.
  2. This may even have implications beyond being just a fun fact. It could be related to the biolinguistics of why humans prefer certain sounds over others. We could potentially uncover some interesting patterns among the top word endings.
  3. I want to be stupidly good at Scrabble/Words with Friends.

In other words, I want to find a word ending where at least 14/26 letters combine with it to make a common word. Before I go about trying to find that, though, we should probably first come up with a formal definition for “commonness.”

I can’t just use something obvious and easily interfaceable, like the amount of Google search results that pop up for a given word. Uncommon words can be common search results.

As an extreme example, “wat” has become a sort of meme – the image of that strange old lady making an inquisitive face (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go ahead and google “wat.” You’ve probably seen it before). So this form of “wat” as a comical misspelling of “what” has been used quite a bit on the internet. But I wouldn’t consider wat, as in –

/wät/: noun (in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos) a Buddhist monastery or temple.

– to be a common word. Still, its meme status lets it turn up way more search results than “vat” which I would consider much more common in most cases.

You could spend time figuring out a systematic method for filtering out meme-related results and whatnot, but I still think search results are just an inaccurate measure in general for what we really want from them: the actual volume of words used in English. Oh, what to do?

Rant over, I guess. I’m all out of ideas. Hopefully that’s some good food for thought for today. Have at it, and tell me how it goes.

from an old post on my website

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