Oxygen and Equinox by Andrew Gunn

 

There comes a time when a man’s quest for knowledge coincides with a lull in his office work, and this double helix of idleness gives him time to pose himself and his colleagues such questions as “Are there any words with more than one X?” and indeed “Are there any words with more than one Q?”.
 
Not so fast—there are rules.
 
English language only. No proper nouns or company names like Xerox or Exxon. Queequeg doesn’t count, nor does Jamie Foxx, nor does Xbox. No hyphenates such as equi-lacquered, which I just made up anyway. What I wanted were the least exotic, most quotidian examples of these Scrabble-busters. Ideally something that I could slip into regular conversation.
 
My Google search for “words with more than one x” proved unexpedient. My workmate’s search for “words with two x’s” hit the jackpot (despite his outrageous apostrophe).
 
There seem to be three double-X words that meet the criteria. Maxixe was the only one I couldn’t parse: it turned out to be a Brazilian dance and also a variety of a gemstone called Beryl. Executrix is the female form of executor, but I suspect like all the -trixs the term is used mainly for gender symmetry. Exotoxin, on the other hand, is arguably guessable if you know a bit about biology: it is therefore the most banal and conversational of the three.
 
A similar search for words with two Qs turned up at least two dozen words with the quin- or quinque- prefix, but only one without: equivoque, as in pun, double-meaning or equivocal expression. It’s also a magician’s technique to rob you of your free will.
 
Having discovered this exquisite treasure I was tempted to anoint it by discounting all prefixed words, but this would leave exotoxin in an uncertain position. In any case, the quin-/quinque- series included garbage like quinquelocular (having five cells), quinquevalve (having five valves) and Quinquagesima (the Sunday before Lent), none of which are recognised by my spell-checker. Fuck that shit.
 
The only one I like is quinquesyllablic, which means five syllables and is also a word of five syllables: language with a pleasing self-referential design.
 
In summary, the winners are exotoxin and equivoque—which sounds like a double-album by Jean-Michel Jarre. Incidentally, if anyone started reading this article hoping for a review of his music, it’s unfairly maligned and the perfect accompaniment to a nocturnal drive through a fluorescence-drenched industrial zone.
 
Back home, a further search on the Xs revealed two words that actually contain a triumvirate: hexahydroxycyclohexane is a chemical compound (I thought there would be more of these) but hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is more useful, being the fear of the number 666.
 
Those familiar with my slightly obsessive enthusiasm will not be surprised to know that I subsequently set about trying to create a word with two Xs and two Qs. This time, prefixes were definitely allowed; and suffixes and compounds and everything else. The only rule was that the word had to have an explainable meaning and not just be a blatant invention like exquixique.
 
The path of least resistance was to take a word with both an X and a Q (there are 87 at words-with.com, but a fair few are dubious), then attach a prefix such as equi- or ex- and a suffix such as -esque.
 
By mistake I kicked off with the triple-Q’d, single X’d quasiexequyesque which might mean “seemed to have equal funeral rites”, for example “Churchill’s and Thatcher’s funerals were quasiexequyesque”.
 
I then crafted exquincunxesque which might mean “Formerly in the style of a quincunx”, as in “My flowers were planted in a quincunxial pattern but are now exquincunxesque”.
 
My favourite, however, is quinquexylexpedite which, if we’re a little loose in our understanding of what kind of “wood” is denoted by xyl- or xylo-, might reasonably be used to define a successful swing with a five-wood golf club, for example “John quinquexylexpedited his ball out of the bunker”.
 
I decided to hash-tag #quinquexylexpedite in case it ever trends, or whatever you call it.

Originally published 12 May 2013.

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