Words that can be spelled using chemical symbols

Fans of National Public Radio’s Sunday Puzzle segment will remember occasional challenges (for example, the one described here) to spell English words using chemical symbols.  So, you could spell the word “iron” using the symbols for iridium, oxygen, and nitrogen (IrON.)  The example should make it clear that this has nothing to do with chemistry; iridium, nitrogen, and neon cannot form a compound, and if they could it wouldn’t be notated in that sequence.  It is just a matter of treating the symbols as if they were Scrabble tiles. 

I’ve been thinking about this, not only because I listen to the NPR Sunday Puzzle, but also because I teach in a classroom decorated with a big poster showing the periodic table.  When the students are taking a test or quiz, there are always at least a couple of minutes when I have nothing to do but look at that poster.  So I try to form words from the symbols. 

Here’s an exhaustive list of all the English words in the tenth edition of Merriam Webster’s dictionary that can be formed in this way.  It not only lists 26,811 words (with a total of 56,407 spellings,) but also includes word squares and word ladders.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. cymast

     /  December 11, 2009

    I’m reminded of your glow-in-the-dark periodic table shirt I like, A.

    Let’s see- we have “Oxygen” and “Carbon,” but no element abbreviated with “D.”

    I’d not heard of Roentgenium (named in 2004), but could have sworn I’d heard of Copernicium. Or maybe I’m thinking of Copper.

    Impressive stuff!

  2. acilius

     /  December 11, 2009

    Copernicium has been in the news lately, so it isn’t surprising that the word sounds familiar. Then again, it is awfully similar to “copper,” so that could very well be it.

    I doubt it will have a big impact on this collection of words. The only items words I could find by putting the search pattern *cp* into onelook.com that matched his requirements were “ecphasis,” “ecphonema,” “ecphoneme,” “ecphonesis,” “ecphractic,” “ecphrasis,” “pincpinc,” “synecphronesis,” and “ticpolonga.”

  3. cymast

     /  December 11, 2009

    I just had to look those up! Didn’t find “ecphrasis,” or “synecphronesis” though. Found “synecphonesis” (no “r”). From there I found 2 more great words, though they’re not words which can be spelled, in part, using the abbreviation of Copernicium. “Synizesis” and “diphthong,” the later of which I had prior familiarity.

  4. acilius

     /  December 11, 2009

    Ah yes, “synecphonesis.” How could I have made a typo on an everyday word like that! I’m surprised you didn’t find “ecphrasis,” that’s probably the commonest of all the *cp* words. Anyway, if you follow the onelook link in the comment above, you can navigate to dictionary entries for all of them.

  5. cymast

     /  December 11, 2009

    Thanks! I think I’ll spell it “ekphrasis.”

  6. acilius

     /  December 11, 2009

    “Ecphrasis” (or “ekphrasis,”) meaning “a detailed description of a work of visual art in a poem or other literary composition,” is an important word in classics. Greek and Roman poets spent a lot of time giving detailed descriptions of works of art, and many of the works they described are lost to us. So to understand Greek and Latin literary works, a classical scholar has to have some idea of what it meant to the ancients to incorporate a detailed description an artwork into a literary composition, and to understand Greek and Roman art, we have to spend a lot of time studying contemporary accounts of artworks since lost to us.

  1. Copernicium « Panther Red
%d bloggers like this: