15 language and literary facts to liven up any conversation

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

But now it’s December . . . all those holiday office parties, neighborhood get-togethers, soccer team potlucks to navigate. What — if anything — is it “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 exchange 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? Help out your colleagues struggling for conversation topics this holiday season.

This post was first published on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily. 

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