English Words from Greek Letters

By Francis, Darryl | Word Ways, November 2003 | Go to article overview

English Words from Greek Letters


Francis, Darryl, Word Ways


Riddle: What common six-letter English word can be spelled using two Greek letters?

Answer: AUTHOR, because it's made up from TAU and RHO.

For some time I've been bemused by the word UNIX, the name of a computer operating system, because it can be spelled out from the names of two letters of the Greek alphabet, XI and NU. Additionally, the two letters are simply spelled in order backwards. This set me thinking about what other words might exist whose letters could be used to spell out the names of two or more Greek letters. And would any of them display their Greek letters in order or reverse order?

The 24 letters of the modern Greek alphabet are alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron, pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi and omega. Additionally, there are 6 letters that appear in earlier versions of the Greek alphabet: digamma, episemon, koppa, sampi, san and vau. These 30 letters can be combined in 450 ways. I have managed to find real words for exactly one-sixth, or 75, of them. In the list below, words not in Webster's Third New International are labeled, and the > symbol indicates that the names of the Greek letters are spelled out forwards (< symbol, spelled out backwards).

alpha, nu       = pulahan
beta, chi       = Thebaic
beta, mu        = beatum (OED nil admirari)
beta, nu        = butane
beta, omicron   = embrocation
beta, psi       = baptise
beta, san       = Abanates (W2)
beta, tau       = batteau
chi, chi        = chichi>
chi, episemon   = phonemicise
chi, eta        = thecia
chi, mu         = Chimu>
chi, nu         = Chiun (W2)
chi, omicron    = chironomic
chi, pi         = pichi>
chi, san        = chains
chi, tau        = Taichu (WGD)
chi, them       = hatchite
chi, zeta       = zaitech (TCD)
delta, nu       = undcalt
delta, pi       = plaited
delta, san      = eastland (W2)
delta, vau      = valuated
episemon, rho   = mesonephroi
epsilon, eta    = epistolean (OED)
epsilon, tau    = epulations
eta, eta        = aetate (durante minore aetate)
eta, mu         = autem (W2)

eta, nu         = atune (W2)
eta, omicron    = craniotome
eta, pi         = tapie (OED tabi)
eta, psi        = pastie (OED)
eta, rho        = Theora (NYB)
eta, san        = ansate
eta, sigma      = sagamite
eta, xi         = axite san,
iota, rho       = Horatio (W2)
iota, san       = Antaios
kappa, nu       = paukpan
lambda, nu      = labdanum
lambda, rho     = rhabdomal
mu, mu          = mumu>
mu, nu          = unum< (OED unum necessar.)
mu, pi          = pium (OED)
mu, psi         = Pisum
mu, rho         = humor
mu, san         = manus
mu, tau         = autum (FW)
nu, nu          = nu-nu> (OED nu 1970q)
nu, omega       = Mongeau (websites surname)
nu, phi         = unhip
nu, psi         = Pinus
nu, rho         = Huron
no, sampi       = Pisanum (OED pisane etym.)
nu, san         = sunna
nu, sigma       = amusing
nu, tau         = Autun (WGD)
nu, xi          = Unix< (NODE)
omicron, tau    = otocranium (W2)
omicron, theta  = monotrichate
phi, pi         = hippi (websites)
phi, zeta       = zaptieh (W2)
pi, pi          = pipi>
pi, psi         = pipis
pi, rho         = Ophir (W2)
pi, san         = spain
pi, tau         = pitau>
psi, rho        = ropish (W2)
psi, san        = spains
psi, theta      = Peshitta (W2)
rho, sampi      = aphorism
rho, san        = shoran
rho, tau        = author
sigma           = amassing
san, xi         = Saxin (OED)

Hippi is the abbreviation for High-Performance Parallel Interface.

What about English words that can be spelled out using the names of three Greek letters? Here are 35 combinations of Greek letters for which I've found real words and names. In theory there are 4500 different possibilities. Where there are multiple transposals, I have shown all the transposals I have been able to find, due to the increased rarity of such words compared with the two-Greek-letter words. …

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