met+a+filter Chain Words and Chain Letters
March 7, 2007 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Is there a name for these kind of words, and what is the longest one?

This is another instance where google is chock full of results for another meaning of this phrase, and it's difficult to find a good relevant answer. I searched for chain words, chain letters etc.

Is there a name for a word that is created by adding a letter onto another word? What is the longest word that exists that each iteration is a valid word? For the sake of argument, it doesn't have to reduce to a valid one letter word.



to + o = too
too + l = tool
tool + s = tools

or ideal

i + d = id
id + e = ide (ides of March)
ide + a = idea
idea + l = ideal

I hope that's enough to go on. Apologies if this has been asked and answered previously, I just can't seem to find the answer!
posted by snailer to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think your second example is flawed. I seem to recall 'ides' is not a plural.



a+n = an
an + t = ant
ant + e = ante
ante + s = antes
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:29 PM on March 7, 2007

You're right there - ides is not a plural, it's just a name for the 15th of March.
posted by snailer at 4:35 PM on March 7, 2007

An ide is "A cyprinoid fish (Leuciscus idus or Idus melanotus), inhabiting the fresh waters of northern Europe." (OED, thanks university access!)
posted by ALongDecember at 4:38 PM on March 7, 2007

The NPR show Car Talk had a similar puzzle here, (with answer here), but they allow you add letters in the middle of the word
posted by thrako at 4:41 PM on March 7, 2007

Also sort of related, may help find the answer, is the concept of Levenshtein Distance
posted by snailer at 4:43 PM on March 7, 2007

Damned if I can remember the/a common name, but this is the meat of a classic parlor game variant—players taking successive turns appending a letter to the word-so-far, losing the round when they can't make a new 1-character-longer word.
posted by cortex at 4:49 PM on March 7, 2007

Are you thinking of Ghost, cortex?
posted by box at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2007

This is kind of the opposite of Ghost.

I remember them playing Ghost with an anonymous hacker on Ghostwriter. Oh, yeah.
posted by lampoil at 5:14 PM on March 7, 2007

Yes, box! Thank you. Plain vanilla Ghost, as described there, is more generous (and so more playable, and less repetitious) than the variant that fits this bill. I was hoping tracking down writeups might get me closer to a proper answer, but no dice so far.
posted by cortex at 5:18 PM on March 7, 2007

Thanks for giving me an idea for new programming project for the next time I teach intro programming!

Anyway, "reversist" and "sheathery" are tied for longest word with this property in the dictionary that comes included on my Mac (apparently Webster's Second International, 1934). It looks like lots of the "prefix words" in these two are pretty obscure. If you remove "sheat" and "rever" from the source dictionary, you get a pretty nice word, "buttery", among several other 7-letter words.
posted by jacobm at 5:39 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lampoli: yes! First thing that popped into my head when I read this thread was "But I was going to spell MUSICIAN!" "Yeah, dad, but we spelled MUSIC first."

THABTO is bad
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:20 PM on March 7, 2007

The ides of a month is not just for March, btw. It's for all months in the ancient Roman calendar.
posted by kdar at 6:22 PM on March 7, 2007

skaters (but "kate" may disqualify this one)

on preview, crap, jacobm has some long ones there (heh)
posted by misterbrandt at 7:38 PM on March 7, 2007

If there's no term for this game, might I suggest catenary cradle?
posted by rob511 at 8:31 PM on March 7, 2007

Man, jacobm got to it after I decided to write this up in Python, but before I did it.
posted by abcde at 8:48 PM on March 7, 2007

Lampoil - that anonymous hacker was Max Mouse!
posted by langeNU at 6:58 AM on March 8, 2007

From my brother:
Which is 8.
posted by misterbrandt at 4:18 PM on March 8, 2007

misterbrandt: Those words are all in my Mac dictionary. So it appears jacobm's script didn't really work?

posted by vacapinta at 5:27 PM on March 8, 2007

From my father:
Also 8.
posted by misterbrandt at 8:20 PM on March 8, 2007

My program assumes you're only allowed to add to the end of the word, not to the beginning as well, which explains the discrepancy between my and misterbrandt's answers. That seems like a more correct reading to me, but if you go that way, then 'reversis' and 'sheathery' still appear at 9 letters apiece, and if you remove 'rever' and 'sheat' then 'sheathery' still wins (as "at => eat => heat => heath => sheath => sheathe => sheather => sheathery"). If you remove the rather strange word "sheathery" from the dictionary, you get a 21-way tie:


Neither of misterbrandt's answers are there; it looks like my /usr/share/dict/words doesn't have any plurals nor does it include many conjugated forms of words, so "prelates", "hastens", "chastens" (and most bizarrely "has") aren't in it. Obviously different dictionaries will produce different results.
posted by jacobm at 9:24 PM on March 8, 2007

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