CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, a “monk for the modern age” by George Parker, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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Found 18 posts tagged ‘one-letter words’

Today — September 19, 2019 (permalink)

It is an outright lie that there are very few one-letter words and that they're rarely misspelled.  For proof, see One-Letter Words: A Dictionary.  This false quotation is from Word Juggler User's Manual, 1984.
> read more from The Right Word . . .
#one-letter words
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August 31, 2019 (permalink)

We were asked just today, in a random encounter, how we came up with a thousand definitions for our One-Letter Words: A Dictionary.  We had to make up an answer, because the truth verges on unbelievable.  From North Texas' 1918 yearbook.
> read more from Yearbook Weirdness . . .
#vintage illustration #alphabet #vintage yearbook #one-letter words
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July 18, 2019 (permalink)

We're delighted that J. Keith Vincent called our One-Letter Words: A Dictionary a "chrestomathy" at a symposium about the Japanese author Edogawa Ranpo and whether or not a person could craft an entire narrative out of a single letter of the alphabet.  "If Craig Conley could come up with thousands of meanings for the 26 letters of the alphabet, whos to say how many stories might not be condensed into any one of those letters?"  Here's how Vincent's paper begins:

I recently ran across a curious dictionary of nothing but one-letter words. The author of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary spent fifteen years compiling 275 pages of definitions of words consisting of only one letter.  This is the dictionary, as one reviewer put it, for anyone who has forgotten that Z was the Roman letter for 2000.”  It also reminds us that Xhas no fewer than seventy meanings in addition to “10,including everything from wrong” (“batsuin Japanese as wellto the place where ones signature on a ballot should go, to a rating for an adult movie, a power of magnification and, of course, the symbol for a kiss.

I discovered this little alphabetical chrestomathy because its author, Craig Conley, cites as his inspiration a story by a detective novelist that I have written about and translated. Its hard to pinpoint exactly when I first got the idea to write a dictionary of one-letter words,Conley writes. But I remember once hearing about a bizarre Japanese crime novel from 1929, The Devil’s Apprentice by Shiro Hamao, and how the entire work consisted of a single letter. The single letter was obviously a written correspondence, but I initially envisioned a single letter of the alphabet. And I marveled at how bizarre indeed it would be to write a detective story that all boiled down to a solitary letter of the alphabet!

Hamaos story is indeed taken up by a single letter. It is written by a man in jail for murder, and addressed to his former lover, who is also the prosecutor trying his case, and whom the alleged murderer blames for leading him astray into homosexuality and other crimes. Conleys productive misinterpretation of the story as a novel consisting of a single letter” (一つとの文字) rather than a single letter” (一通の手紙) is a great example of what can be gained, rather than lost, in translation. The misunderstanding, based on single scrap of text without context, opens his mind to the signifying capacity of single letters and leads him to produce his dictionary of one-letter words, like some queer companion volume to George Perecs La Disparition, a detective novel that was famously written without ever using the letter e.

Might it be possible to tease a narrative out of just one letter? A single characterone would have—protagonist perhaps. If not a majuscule, a miniscule character, one who could at least play a minor supporting role in a drama to which our imagination might supply the rest. Conley continues, I imagined some sort of gritty retelling of Nathaniel Hawthornes novel The Scarlet Letter, where a bloody letter A serves as the only scrap of evidence to unravel a seedy tale of adultery, heartbreak, and murder.If Craig Conley could come up with thousands of meanings for the 26 letters of the alphabet, whos to say how many stories might not be condensed into any one of those letters?

It was with such silly thoughts in my mind that I happened across a story by Hamao Shirō’s good friend Edogawa Ranpo. The story is titled Monogram” (モノグラム) and Ranpo wrote it in 1926. As the title suggests, Monogramis a story about letters in their singularity. And although the story is written using many more than one letter, a close reading of Ranpos text shows that it has quite a lot to say about how one might, or might not, spin a tale out of a single letter.” ...

[Link to pdf.]

> read more from Go Out in a Blaze of Glory . . .
#one-letter words
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July 17, 2019 (permalink)

We're delighted that Lacey Echols called our One-Letter Words: A Dictionary "fool-proof," a "saving grace," "extremely educational, entertaining, and useful."  Here's a snippet from the article "My Visit to Grant's Tome" (Word Ways), in which our dictionary is put to the test:
I wanted to find all one-letter, two-letter, three-letter, etc. words in any given word.  There was one problem.  Even though I have a fairly large vocabulary, I do not know many words which are one-letter words.  Ask me to identify three- and four-letter words, and I am at ease.  One letter?  The only common single letter words are 'a' and 'I'!  However, I was fortunate to hear about a book which could be my saving grace, One-Letter Words: A Dictionary, by Craig Conley.  I felt my confidence begin to soar because with the help of this dictionary I should easily be able to count all one-letter words in any given word, or could I?  Being a bit of a skeptic, I tested my skill with the word 'ait.'  'I' and 'a' are legitimate, but what about 't'?  Sure enough, Mr. Conley provides 58 instances in which 't' is used as a word.  As an example, 'it suits you to a T' uses 't' as a word.  Hallelujah!  But 'ait' is a fairly simple word.  What about 'Mozambique'?  I feel a time-consuming project ahead.  Actually, the dictionary is fool-proof.  There are thirty-five examples using the word 'z' and even twenty-seven examples of the word 'q'. ... I found [Conley's dictionary and Jeff Grant's Concise Dictionary of 2 Letter Words] to be extremely educational, entertaining, and useful for a novice word counter.  Maybe if I never let anyone use these books, I will be able to win all games which include identifying actual words in any given word.
> read more from The Right Word . . .
#one-letter words
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May 5, 2019 (permalink)

We're thankful for this 5-star review of the One-Letter Words Quiz Deck over at Amazon:
"Craig Conley is a genius and these are wonderful. Learning these pieces of knowledge will make you more interesting at parties and attractive."

> read more from Go Out in a Blaze of Glory . . .
#one-letter words
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May 4, 2019 (permalink)

Previously, while staying in a Los Angeles hotel casita, we were surprised to find our dictionary of one-letter words sitting atop a Red Letter Teacher's Edition Bible.  
(Is it an ironic pairing of a best-seller with a non-starter?  Or is it a visual joke, like "Alpha[bet] and Omega?)  We recall Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair (with its charming, time-bending solution to the true authorship of the Shakespeare plays) in which a motel drawer features a Gideon Bible, the teachings of Buddha, Thoughts Of St. Zvlkxand the complete works of the Bard (among other things).
> read more from Go Out in a Blaze of Glory . . .
#bible #dictionary #one-letter words #alpha and omega #ironic pairing
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April 29, 2019 (permalink)

We've always imagined it floating in a cloud of incense: our quiz deck of one-letter words from Pomegranate.  The dream is finally a reality, as the Tarotist and all-around wizard Holy Mountaineering unboxed the deck in his hallowed studio.  Delighted!
> read more from Go Out in a Blaze of Glory . . .
#one-letter words
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April 4, 2019 (permalink)

Turns out that none of our books are about what they seem to be.  This we learned from a friend in Australia, who has a special perspective on things (as we all know, everything in Australia is upside down).  So imagine our surprise upon re-reading the world's unlikeliest script, The Dictionary of One-Letter Words: The Movie.  Mind blown!
> read more from This May Surprise You . . .
#one-letter words #film script #screenwriting
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March 30, 2019 (permalink)

They said it was utterly unfilmable, as unfilmable as William Burroughs' Naked Lunch.  A dictionary made into a movie?  And not just any dictionary — the Dictionary of One-Letter Words.  The script, illustrated with photos and storyboards, is finally available in print.  Yes, it's The Dictionary of One-Letter Words: The Movie.
> read more from This May Surprise You . . .
#one-letter words #film script #unfilmable
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February 27, 2016 (permalink)

Can it be true that there's a "curse of one-letter words," as per this commentary piece by Michael Carley?  We can now affirm that there is, indeed, a curse of one-letter words.  We were victimized by it when the Barnes & Noble book chain refused to stock our One-Letter Words: A Dictionary, published by HarperCollins.  Our book is now out of print, except on Kindle, but if you encounter a hardcover copy somewhere in the world, we can assure you of one thing: though there is a curse of one-letter words, our dictionary does not constitute a demonic bible or otherwise forbidden reference.

> read more from The Right Word . . .
#one-letter words #f word #n word
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July 7, 2015 (permalink)

What do we like about this crossword-like design from The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, translated by R. F. Burton, 1894?  Those squares for one-letter words!

> read more from Puzzles and Games . . .
#crossword #tile design #arabian nights #one-letter words
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February 23, 2013 (permalink)

Here is some one-letter maledicta from Life, 1918.  To decipher what those letters mean, see One-Letter Words: A Dictionary.

> read more from The Right Word . . .
#vintage illustration #art #one-letter words #maledicta
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September 13, 2012 (permalink)

Geof Huth told us that he just acquired an uncorrected proof of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary, the first in a collection of uncorrected dictionary proofs.  We're now hoping that O.L.W.'s proof is riddled with errors and constitutes a wicked reference like The Wicked Bible of 1631 (though that one, if memory serves, is merely missing a "not" in one of the Commandments).  We love the idea of uncorrected proofs deliberately being cited as [faulty] evidence.  We didn't think to tell Geof this, but we're picturing an entire research project in which every single footnote references an uncorrected proof.  No one has any reason to know this, but when we appeared at O.L.W. book signings/talks, we read favorite one-letter words from the uncorrected proof.  Our talks were technically illegitimate, springing from liminal matter that wasn't quite the "thing" itself.  We didn't do it as some sort of art piece (more fool we) but were merely caught between worlds: a reclusive writer publicly reading from a softcover of a hardcover to people listening but not buying any of it.

> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .
#one-letter words #geof huth #strange dictionary
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November 1, 2011 (permalink)

Thanks to Nathalie Foy for exploring some of the surprisingly ghoulish definitions in our dictionary of one-letter words:

Not a joke.  I found this on the shelf in the bookstore when I was looking at other dictionaries.  You can explore it online.

There’s not an awful lot to say about one-letter words, except that there are more than 1000 of them.  Many have to do with Roman numerals, music and science, but a fair few have some surprising definitions. 

By far the most interesting to me were these ghoulish definitions: 

You know the expression, “branded a thief”?  To the extent that I had ever thought about it, I’d assumed the phrase was metaphorical.  It’s not.  Until 1827 in America, thieves were, literally, branded on the thumb with the letter T.

And that is not all.  Humans have a long history of shaming and harming each other with branded or incised letters, apparently.

In Colonial America, drunkards were forced to wear the letter D, made of red cloth and sewn onto a white ground, so A is not the only scarlet letter.  Civil War deserters were branded with the letter D, as well, on the buttock, hip or cheek.  The letter was made with a hot iron or a razor.

Until 1822, the letter F (for “fray-maker”) was branded on the cheeks of people who fought in church.  Blasphemers were branded on the forehead with the letter B.

The ancient Romans branded false accusers with a K (for kalumnia, lie), and in England, R was used as a mark for rogues.

And on that cheerful note, I end my month of looking at dictionaries.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

> read more from The Right Word . . .
#one-letter words
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May 9, 2011 (permalink)

Speaking of one-letter words, Annie Dillard collected her favorite maritime navigation codes, such as:

A  -  I am undergoing a speed trial.

D  -  Keep clear of me; I am maneuvering with difficulty.

F   -  I am disabled. Communicate with me.

G  -  I require a pilot.

F  -  Your lights are out, or burning badly.

U  -  You are standing into danger.

X  -  Stop carrying out your intentions.

K  -  You should stop your vessel instantly.

L   -  You should stop.  I have something important to communicate.

Our favorite:

R   -  You may feel your way past me.
> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .
#annie dillard #one-letter words #navigation codes
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December 20, 2009 (permalink)

Art by spacesick.
Here's our translation of the Xs and Os of this book cover, using The X-O-Skeleton Story Generator.  As we don't know the order of play, we read the letters row by row, left to right:

Round kissing sun
Reassurance magnifying, shadowing
Marking the spot of one(ness)
> read more from Puzzles and Games :: Tic Tac Toe Story Generator . . .
#poetry #tic tac toe #one-letter words
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April 16, 2009 (permalink)

Here's a kiss and hug (X and O, in the shorthand of love notes), by way of the One Letter Words Quiz Deck by Pomegranate.
> read more from Puzzles and Games :: Tic Tac Toe Story Generator . . .
#card deck #pomegranate #one-letter words #x and o #trivia
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January 22, 2009 (permalink)

We stumbled upon a spooky yet poetic mention of one-letter words in an article about brainstorming for graphic designers:

[J]ot down some one letter words that best describe your idea.
For example: sunset, skeleton, dark and death.

Sunset, skeleton, dark, and death.  Are these truly one-letter words?  (Delightful of you to ask, by the way!)  They are, indeed!

Sunsets recall more than a single one-letter word:  While the French poet Victor Hugo famously said that "O is the sun," astronomers use a different one-letter word to designate the class of yellow stars to which our sun belongs: G.  Additionally, in the ionosphere, the E layer develops around sunset, at an altitude of 90-130km.

Skeletons recall the letter R.  In organic chemistry, "The letter R represents the carbon skeleton of the molecule" (Gerard Tortora, Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 2005).  And novelist William Gibson has noted "the color of glow-in-the-dark toy skeletons, each with its own iconic M" (Pattern Recognition, 2003). 

Darkness recalls M, a state of deep, dreamless sleep in which consciousness is "lost in darkness" (Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image, 1974).  Poet Tom Sleigh describes an injured driver's face, "each eye / an x of darkness" ("The Wreck," The Dreamhouse, 1999).

Death recalls Z, as in Arnold Yarrow's Death is a Z (1978).  It also recalls O, as in cultural theorist Earl Jackson, Jr.'s "big O of death" (Strategies of Deviance, 1995).

Sunset, skeleton, dark, and death: all highly evocative definitions of our ABCs!
> read more from The Right Word . . .
#spooky #one-letter words
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