About DVS Words

Professor Colton's Devious Words Lists

I have long been amused by words and phrases can can be spelled out. For example, EZ is "easy", and OICURAB means "Oh, I see. You are a bee." In February 2007 I began my own hunt for these words, before finding the web pages mentioned next. I thought I might be able to work them into some assignment for the Computer Speech Recognition class I teach.

Prior Art:

My original Google search turned up nothing. I tried a few of the longer words from my list in hopes someone was also playing this game. I guess I must have chosen badly for my search.

A later Google search for "CNMNE" (sea anemone) turned up two interesting websites. One I really like is a column by Richard Lederer in Jewish World Review. He identifes these DVS words as "Grammagrams, words that when pronounced consist entirely of letter sounds." I have stolen a few that I did not already have from his article and identified them in my list below as (Lederer).

Paul Wright (c)2000 in a delightful web page (link now broken) entitled Other Word Oddities gives a wonderful list of SLWSs (Single Letter Word Sentences) as he calls them. Paul has a really excellent list of DVS words sent in by a visitor to his web site.

DVS Rules:

I decided on the following rules.

  • Only letters and digits can be used. A purist might stick with just the 26 letters of English. I included digits because both can be used in Vanity Plates on vehicles. Symbols like @ would be nice, but are not allowed. Heart (for love) would be nice, but is not allowed. Letters from other languages, like "pi" from Greek would be nice, but are not allowed.
  • I have not considered but would accept alternate pronunciations of letters, such as Z which can be pronounced "zee" or "zed". I used "zee" below. I am also willing to accept British, regional, and colloquial pronunciations of words.
  • The resulting word must be understandable by native English speakers. Foreign words are only allowed if they have essentially been adopted into English.
  • Each letter or digit must be individually and fully pronounced. We do not allow text-messaging shortcuts like "GR8" for "great" because the G and R are not pronounced individually as letters.
  • Common abbreviations are not allowed. For example, DVD, CD, TV, MC, AM, PM, BMW, LA, NY, R2D2.
  • Personal names have their own list because they are not normal words, and can be constructed at a whim.
  • Bonus points apply to phrases that can be spelled when the individual words cannot, such as "CQ" for "seek you", "2A" for "two way", and "UL" for "you will". That is the main way that phrases can be included on the main word list.
  • Penalty points apply when the letters do not match full syllables of the word. Syllable-stretchers like "ES" for "yes" are second-class citizens. Words that require too much twisting of the letter names are also second-class citizens.
  • Longer words are more impressive than shorter ones.
  • A separate but also fun activity is to string the words together into DVS phrases. Bonus points for saying something meaningful.

I needed a name for this type of word. I knew it had to be one of the words on the list itself. EZ did not seem right. DVS had a nice feel to it.

I encourage you to submit new DVS word discoveries to me by email to don at doncolton.com. The ones I like will be added to the list, with acknowledgement to you if you allow it.